When Microsoft made what appeared to be a minor announcement last week that it would expand its Canadian operations with the creation of the Microsoft Canada Development Centre for software development based in the greater Vancouver, British Columbia area, it went mostly unnoticed.
One of the only exceptions was a story on InfoWorld, Microsoft Canada Responds to Immigration Woes, which recognized something new was afoot.
What no one in the lower 48 states realized at the time was how significant this move north might be and how the Canadian immigration policy makes it all possible.
Nevertheless, Canadian Katarina Onuschak, a licensed immigration consultant and owner of T&CS Canada, a consultancy for Canadian immigration, says she immediately recognized the significance of the Centre when she read the news.
"It will be a beginning of new era," said Onuschak.
There are two pieces to the puzzle that, when brought together, may indeed represent a new era for Canada's high tech industry and for U.S. companies who prefer near-shoring as opposed to offshoring.
Canada's far more liberal immigration policy for temporary high tech workers combined with Microsoft's stated intentions of opening the software development center to house developers "from around the world" makes it clear why Onuschak responded as she did.
This makes it possible for Microsoft and others to have their cake and eat it too.
Near-shoring gives companies better time zone management and allows companies to hire programmers based on whatever parameters they choose, which may be skills or pay scale, while not having to face the limitations of green card and H-1B regulations.
Of course it will also kick start a mostly slow-growing software development industry in Canada.
As the Microsoft announcement plainly stated, "The Vancouver area is a global gateway with a diverse population, is close to Microsoft's corporate offices in Redmond, and allows the company to recruit and retain highly skilled people affected by immigration issues in the U.S."
Many companies may follow Microsoft's lead say the experts.
The liberal Canadian policy comes from a project targeted specifically at information technology workers, who are considered a special category by Canada's immigration agency.
The special category created by the Canadian government for information technology workers and the six categories under which workers must qualify was actually created back in 1997 as a pilot project to make sure Canada had enough programmers to deal with Y2K.
As interpreted by the National Labor Market [Canada's equivalent to the U.S. Department of Labor], any software developers falling into the six major developer categories do not have to go to Service Canada, Canada's Immigration and Naturalization agency, to apply for a work permit. Workers can go straight to a Canadian visa office to apply. This speeds up the visa process.
The ruling states that "under this process, no confirmation letter from Human Resources and Skills Development Canada (HRSDC) is necessary for specific jobs for which finding a foreign worker will not have a negative impact on Canadian or permanent-resident job seekers and workers."