US Immigration Climate Might Be Boosting Canada’s Popularity Among International Job Seekers

Canadian and US immigration policy are moving in opposite directions. While the US is taking steps to potentially reduce immigration, Canada has welcomed a record number of newcomers over the past year.

For Canada, a key question is whether these moves have changed the country’s popularity among international job seekers. Are those who might once have tried moving to the US looking at Canada instead? We examine this question using Indeed job search data, which tracks both the countries where job seekers are looking for work and where they are searching from.

More job seekers are looking north   

We found some striking trends. Job seekers from India looking for work abroad are nearly twice as likely to search for jobs in Canada as they were two years ago. At the same time, the US has lost a sizeable share of outbound searches from the world’s second most populous country, with Canada picking up most of the displaced interest.

To be sure, people in India are still more likely to search for work in the US than Canada, but the gap has narrowed. This could prove a boon to the Canadian tech industry since many of the top searches from India are for jobs in that sector.  

There are also signs of a modest shift in interest toward Canada from some Latin American countries, where the relative popularity of the US as a destination has dropped in recent years. Mexico and Brazil stand out as large countries where a portion of the US loss in job search share has moved to Canada. However, unlike with India, Canada has picked up a fairly small share of the US drop-off, with most search activity going elsewhere.   

Canada has grown in popularity among international job seekers

To measure the changes in popularity of both Canada and the US among international job seekers, we analyzed the destination of cross-border searches from 58 countries spanning six continents. In particular, among outbound job searches from each country, we asked whether the shares going to Canada or the US moved in different directions between August 2016 and July 2018.     

Overall, Canada has become an increasingly popular destination for international job seekers. Canada’s share of cross-border searches rose in 41 of the 58 countries we analyzed, falling in just 17.

However, in most cases, Canada’s rising search share isn’t coming from a drop in searches to the US. Rather, in 25 of the 41 countries where Canada’s relative popularity rose, the US share of cross-border searches also rose.

Still, in 16 countries – including several prominent examples – Canada grew in search share as relative interest in the US fell. The US still generally attracts more searches from these countries than Canada, but the gap in job seeker interest has narrowed, in some cases substantially.  

Job seeker interest in India has swung from the US to Canada  

India experienced the most dramatic shift in cross-border searches from the US to Canada. Between August 2016 and July 2018, the US share of outbound searches from India fell from 60% to 50%, while the share going to Canada rose from 6% to 13%. This net 17 percentage point narrowing in relative search popularity was easily the largest swing among the countries we analyzed.

This shift in cross-border job search from India could partly be a response to the recent tightening of the US H-1B visa program for those in highly specialized occupations. Workers from India received about three-quarters of these work permits in 2017. But, with the application process getting stricter, some job seekers might be looking at Canada instead.

Teasing out the specific impacts of the visa program changes is a bit difficult. Some evidence suggests a direct effect: job seekers in India considering Canada often search for highly skilled roles potentially affected by H-1B changes, such as business analyst, mechanical engineer and software developer. Moreover, while Canada’s popularity was already gradually rising, its share of outbound searches from India saw a noticeable uptick toward the end of 2017 as tighter US H-1B requirements came into effect.

That said, other factors besides immigration policy are also likely at play. First, the share of searches to the US was already sliding in mid-2016, before the change in immigration climate, which then continued throughout 2017. In addition, Canada’s booming tech scene itself is also probably boosting search interest. Either way, these trends could benefit the Canadian tech sector, given the prominence of high-skilled workers from India in the industry on both sides of the border.

The US lead over Canada in searches has also shrunk among several Latin American countries. The share of cross-border searches from Panama, Brazil, Uruguay and Mexico to the US all fell by at least nine percentage points over the past two years, while job seeker interest in Canada rose in these countries.

That said, the rise in Canada’s popularity among international job seekers from Latin America has been modest compared with the drop-off in searches to the US. For example, while the share of outbound searches from Mexico to the US fell from 70% to 61%, Canada’s share of cross-border searches rose from 8% to 9%. Unlike with India, the drop in US popularity has boosted relative job seeker interest from these countries to a range of destinations, of which Canada is just one.

Canada’s popularity potentially swayed by immigration policy at home and abroad

Despite diverging immigration policies, the relative popularity of Canada and the US have actually moved together among most of the countries in our study. Even so, the list of countries where job seeker interest has shifted away from the US and toward Canada highlights a potential role played by the policy environment.

For India, tightening of US skilled foreign worker programs may have contributed to the noticeable shift in searches to Canada. Meanwhile, declining US popularity in several Latin American countries could also be related to the US immigration climate, with Canada among a range of countries picking up cross-border job seeker interest instead.   

Methodology

We examined the search behaviour of Indeed job seekers from August 2016 through July 2018 in countries with an Indeed website in August 2016, with the exception of China and Norway. For each country, a cross-border search is one in which the country associated with a job seeker’s IP address differs from the country they are searching for a job in. We then calculate the share of these outbound searches going to either Canada or the US.

Besides Canada and the US, the 58 markets included in this analysis are — in alphabetical order of IP code — the United Arab Emirates, Argentina, Austria, Australia, Belgium, Bahrain, Brazil, Switzerland, Chile, Colombia, Czechia, Germany, Denmark, Ecuador, Egypt, Spain, Finland, France, the United Kingdom, Greece, Hong Kong, Hungary, Indonesia, Ireland, Israel, India, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Kuwait, Luxembourg, Morocco, Mexico, Malaysia, Nigeria, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Oman, Panama, Peru, the Philippines, Pakistan, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Romania, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Sweden, Singapore, Thailand, Turkey, Taiwan, Ukraine, Uruguay, Venezuela, Vietnam and South Africa.

For more information from Indeed’s team of economists, visit the Hiring Lab.