Perhaps the biggest news story of 2017 thus far has been the so-called Muslim ban.
On Friday January 27, U.S. president Donald Trump signed an executive order temporarily banning visitors from seven countries — Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia, Yemen, and Iraq — from the United States for 90 days. The executive order also temporarily suspended the entire U.S. refugee system for 120 days.
Outcry against the order was immediate and strident. Millions of American citizens vocally came out against the ban, with tens of thousands of people going to airports and other points of entry to protest. American businesses also opposed the ban, particularly the technology sector. Companies are afraid the order will discourage skilled foreign workers from coming to work in the United States.
Most skilled workers come to the United States under the H1-B visa program. It allows U.S. companies to bring in foreign talent if there aren’t enough U.S. workers to fill vacancies. In 2014, 124,000 people were granted H1-B visas with another 191,000 gaining approval to continue working in the United States.
Some people have criticized the program, however, with many saying tech companies are bringing in cheap labour that’s paid less than comparable American workers. And since Trump heavily campaigned on a platform focusing on jobs, there’s fear that his administration may go after H1-B visas at some point in the near future.
Obviously, such a move would be negative for America’s tech giants. One report says 15% of Facebook’s employees are in the United States under the program.
If Trump does take a cleaver to his nation’s visa program, there’s one clear winner. That company is Canada’s BlackBerry Ltd. (TSX:BB)(NASDAQ:BBRY). Here’s why.
Chronic staff shortages
After years of laying off staff and cutting operations, BlackBerry is finally in a position to start trying to attract more employees.
Currency issues are making this tougher than ever. In 2013 and 2014, the Canadian and U.S. dollar traded roughly at par with each other. Then oil started to decline, which lead to tepid economic numbers from many parts of the country. This all combined to send the loonie tumbling.
Our currency is up versus lows hit in January 2016, but one Canadian dollar still only fetches 76 cents in the U.S.
The currency difference has made it harder than ever for Canadian tech companies to attract foreign talent. Many foreign workers send large amounts of money back home every week. U.S. dollars simply go further than Canadian dollars when converted into local currency.
And then there’s the prestige factor. Let’s face it; BlackBerry’s best days are certainly behind it. In 2007, BlackBerry was one of the world’s top tech giants. It was the most valuable company on the TSX with a market capitalization of more than $67 billion.
These days, BlackBerry is nothing more than a punchline. It can still attract top talent — especially here in Canada – -but it’s nothing compared to what it was a decade ago.
We’re already starting to see more interest in working in Canada. Canadian immigration lawyers are reporting a surge of interest since the Muslim ban was passed. And reportedly, tech giants are looking into the possibility of opening offices in places like Vancouver, Toronto, and Montreal, just in case employees may be forced out of the United States.
The bottom line
Finding good workers is incredibly important in the technology sector. Without a great group of employees, technological change just doesn’t happen.
If skilled employees avoid the United States and come to Canada instead, it’s ultimately good news for our local technology companies — especially BlackBerry.
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