Canada's stronger economy is becoming a magnet for Americans hunting for work.
In a reversal of historical flows, immigration lawyers report a surge of calls from Americans who want to move north. Statistics bear out their observations: A record number of Americans applied for temporary work visas last year, Immigration Canada statistics show, spurred largely by the contrasting health of the two countries' labour markets.
On one side of the border, 14 million Americans are out of work – the equivalent of more than 40 per cent of Canada's population. On the other side, some employers – particularly in Alberta's oil sector – say they can't find enough skilled workers, prompting the country's federal immigration minister to publicly muse last month on how to admit more skilled Americans.
The U.S. jobless rate is 9.1 per cent while Canada's comparable rate – adjusted to U.S. concepts – is just 6.3 per cent, statistics released last week show.
"It's reverse brain drain," says Toronto-based immigration lawyer Sergio Karas. "There are a lot of disgruntled people who say 'America is letting me down.'"
He sees several shifts – Canadians who married Americans and live in the U.S. are now returning to Canada because of better job prospects in professional areas like law and finance. And more Americans, from the Northeast and California in particular, are setting their sights on Canada for its work opportunities and other factors such as affordable health care, a stronger banking system and stable housing market.
Paul DeJoe is one of them. The 29-year-old tried for years to drum up interest in his business idea in Philadelphia to no avail. He moved to Vancouver this summer to participate in an incubator program that focuses on Internet startups. He says there's a bigger flow of ideas, and more seed money, available to them now that they're based in Canada.
"It looks like we will become a Canadian company – we have access to a bunch more opportunities. And it's really nice here and we've had a great experience thus far," says Mr. DeJoe, founder of Ecquire, which provides software that helps users eliminate data entry.
Canada's stability is increasingly on the global radar. Last week, Forbes magazine named it as the best place in the world to do business. In the lead-up to every presidential election, "countless Americans threaten to move to Canada if their preferred candidate does not emerge victorious. Of course, few follow through with a move north," it noted. "Maybe it is time to reconsider."
Windsor, Ont.-based immigration lawyer Drew Porter is also seeing history reverse itself. He is fielding more calls from high-net-worth Americans who are worried their taxes are set to rise. "I've been doing this for 20 years now, and always the calls were from people that did well in Canada and wanted to move to the U.S. to increase their standard of living and minimize their income taxes," he says. "It's quite noteworthy to me that now I'm getting calls from the U.S. interested in Canada for the same reasons."
A typical caller is from a rural setting, who is a higher earner and interested in preserving their net worth and concerned about potential tax hikes, he says. Still, he notes, many callers are misinformed about the ease of coming to Canada and are soon deterred by red tape.
Luring skilled American workers to Canada is on the federal government's radar, as well. Immigration Minister Jason Kenney recently noted Canada could do more to tap into America's skilled labour market.
"We are looking at ways … that we could do a better job of accessing unemployed American labour," he told the Calgary Chamber of Commerce last month. "We think particularly in the energy industry, that might be a significant solution to some of the emerging labour market shortages."
The U.S. has ranked first among homelands for temporary foreign workers in Canada since 2008. Last year, the number of American citizens applying for temporary work permits doubled to 4,024, from 1,974 applications in 2008.
Judith Jones is mulling the move. The New York resident is no stranger to Canada – she lived in Toronto before returning to work in the U.S. in 1995.
She held a variety of jobs in the financial sector until her job at Deutsche Bank's compliance department evaporated in 2008. Since then, she has struggled to find work in the sector that matches her 23 years of experience, and has watched her salary dwindle.
"Most of us in the financial industry who did banking like I did, we never expected Wall Street to crash," she says. "I've since found out Canada did not have the recession we did to nearly to the same extent, and has better regulations. Unlike the U.S., you didn't play around with the mortgage industry. That's why it's so attractive."
She's still healthy at age 47, but said Canada's health care is another attraction as she sets her sights north.
She's not alone. Last month, a New York radio segment on Looking for Work in Canada on The Brian Lehrer Show was flooded with calls and featured comparisons of the two countries' banking systems, employment situation and health-care systems.
New York's office of the state comptroller forecast this week that the city could lose almost 10,000 additional jobs by the end of next year, which would bring total job losses in the securities sector to 32,000 since the start of 2008.
By contrast, total global employment by Canadian banks hit a record of more than 360,000 last year, while the lobby group the Toronto Financial Service Alliance is holding a career fair in New York this month to attract top American talent.
Philip Turner isn't packing his bags yet – but he is gearing his business more towards Canada. The book publisher is based in New York, and has long brought Canadian books, by authors such as Margaret Atwood and Mordecai Richler, to the U.S. market. Now, he is making more business trips to Toronto to drum up business.
"I am trying to develop business in Canada with Canadians," he says. "There is a little more buzz in Canada right now than is the case here."
LOOKING FOR WORK
It's not just Americans who are looking with envy at Canada's comparatively stable economy.
Greeks and Irish too are vying to move to Canada amid dim job prospects in their own countries, according to immigration lawyers.
"I don't speak Greek, but I am getting phone calls right now, and I think it's going to intensify as the situation is only going to get worse," says Toronto-based lawyer Sergio Karas.
In Windsor, Ont., lawyer Drew Porter says he has had "an awful lot of calls from Ireland over the past year-and-a-half."
The number of temporary work applicants from Ireland nearly doubled between 2007 and 2010 and more than doubled from Spain, according to Immigration Canada. It has dwindled from Greece – however the numbers don't capture activity this year.