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Canada seeks foreign tech workers The number of available jobs is expected to increase by about 100,000 over the next several years

An immigration system that favors tech workers. An exchange rate that puts the Canadian dollar almost at parity with its U.S. counterpart - Canada's strategy to grow its economy is working. And it's a strategy that is very dependent on foreign workers.

The economy in British Columbia is growing by as much as 4.5% a year, with technology being the fastest-growing sector. The province's total workforce is now at about 2.3 million people, and it's predicted that over the next 12 years, there will be approximately 1 million job vacancies in British Columbia -- half the result of retirements, and the other half due to the creation of new jobs.

But over that same 12-year period, the province's secondary schools are expected to graduate a total of about 650,000 students. On the very face of it, there will be short 350,000 workers, which will have to come through immigration.

The Canadian government has specific programs for quickly bringing high-tech workers with certain skills into the country, a process that can take two to eight weeks.

The government recognizes that these people don't exist within Canada. If an employer is seeking a worker who has a specific set of skills, education and work experience and will be paid a salary on par with what Canadians earn, a foreigner can successfully get a work permit. Unlike the annual cap on the number of H-1B visas issued in the U.S., there is no numerical limit on foreign workers entering Canada.

Microsoft, which is been a vocal critic of the H-1B program's restrictions, announced that it plans to open the development center in Vancouver -- a mere 150 miles from the company's Seattle-area headquarters. The software vendor said it decided to set up the Vancouver facility, which is due to open in the fall, partly to help it "recruit and retain highly skilled people affected by immigration issues in the U.S."

Canada is becoming more and more attractive to companies such as Microsoft for more reasons than its immigration policies alone.

One thing that's helping Canada retain jobs and create new ones is the fact that the Canadian dollar now is trading at about 96 cents to the U.S. dollar -- much higher than in years past.

Canadians also hope that the country's quality of life adds appeal. Canada offers national health insurance, a good university system and much lower crime levels.

In addition, Canada has become far more receptive to immigration than the U.S. is. In 2006, nearly 1.3 million foreigners became permanent residents of the U.S. But Canada -- with a total population that is only about one-tenth the number of U.S. residents -- has been accepting about 250,000 new permanent residents annually.

In the technology sector, such immigration is needed to fill new jobs. It's estimated that there are about 620,000 high-tech workers in Canada. The number of available jobs is expected to increase by about 100,000 over the next several years. But Canadian universities graduate only about 15,000 students with tech skills annually, short of what is required.

Employees who are brought in for temporary work can usually get permanent residency. When you have a job in Canada, that's a pretty fair indication to the immigration department that you are of value to the country.

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Miss Melanie Vogel
Bonn Germany

iSC International GmbH
Bonn Germany

Language knowledge: German, English

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