Executive Summaries Mar 6, 2020

The Role of Immigration Policies in Attracting Foreign Investment to Canada

Canada offers an increasingly attractive environment for foreign investors.

The stability of the economy and political climate, competitive operating costs, quality of life index and access to major international transportation networks are among the factors making Canada a destination of choice. In addition, Canada's growing reputation as a technology incubator and its ability to attract and retain global talent are also playing an increasingly important role in attracting international investors. Immigration policies that focus on bringing qualified workers to innovative firms contribute significantly to this favourable reputation.

In contrast to the United States, which saw the number of legal immigrants fall by 7% between 2016 and 2018, Canada experienced a 26% growth in immigrants between 2015 and 2019. In response to the global phenomenon of an aging workforce and, more importantly, with the policy goal of attracting the talent needed to innovate and grow, Canada is deploying numerous immigration programs and incentives. Canada’s efforts to attract global talent with a firm commitment to Canadian society are generating overall positive results.

The Canadian plan launched by Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) includes several measures that are focused on increasing the number of professional, science and technology - related jobs to 40% of total employment opportunities. The recent Global Talent Stream programme facilitates the arrival of temporary foreign workers highly sought by innovative companies. Launched in 2017 as a Pilot Project, and made permanent in the most recent federal budget, this programme is central to the overall government strategy meant to help Canadian businesses of all sizes prosper. The goal of this programme is not only to attract the best global talent, but also to ensure skill transfer to Canadian citizens and permanent residents, leading to local job creation.

In brief, this programme allows high-growth innovative companies to benefit from fast track processing of work permit applications for certain highly skilled positions. The targeted positions include computer systems managers, computer analysts and consultants, software engineers and designers, interactive media programmers and developers, and database analysts. Expedited processing also applies to underlying visa applications for foreign nationals who also require visas to enter Canada. This opportunity to recruit foreign talent much more quickly aligns more closely to the needs and reality of innovative companies. It also allows them to be more attractive and competitive in the international business environment where talent acquisition is a real challenge.

This competitive advantage allows Canada to stand out in North America, comparing favourably to the United States’ immigration system, which imposes quotas for skilled workers. When compared side by side with the Canadian system, the U.S. system generally involves much longer processing times for the same type of workers. The Canadian system is thus becoming attractive, not only to global talent, but also for foreign direct investment and the creation of R&D centres that will benefit from this facilitated access for the most skilled workers.

According to a recent analysis by the Canadian CBRE Research Centre[1], cities such as Washington D.C., Boston and Los Angeles produce more talent than jobs, and are experiencing a significant brain drain. On the other side, Toronto and Montreal rank third and thirteenth respectively in terms of technological talent markets. According to the same report, the technology talent pool between Canada and the United States is estimated to include more than six million highly skilled workers, a critical resource pool for attracting foreign investment.

For international investors, in addition to the availability of technology and the ability to innovate, the ability to attract and retain the best talent is essential for meet global competition. Canada is well positioned on the global stage in terms of its attractiveness to qualified foreign workers. This reputation is due at least in part to the deployment of several immigration measures aimed at facilitating the entry into Canada of highly skilled workers bringing added value to our economy. 

Undisputable, immigration is a centerpiece of global economic strategy. To keep its competitive edge, Canada must continue to develop, attract and retain global talent through programmes adapted to the needs of businesses and international investors.


[1] CBRE – 2019 Scoring Tech Talent

For more on which growth strategies to choose when dealing with foreign investors, register to our Strategic Forum on Foreign Investment.
Find out about this event