I first heard about the Vancouver tech hub plan back in early February, when I was visiting the city.
It was a relatively new idea at the time – the Vancouver tech hub expansion, more a vapor of a thought than anything else, really, but in this day and age people are quick to capitalize on what they see as a spot in the market with a kink in it, perhaps something underserved, or something that’s going to be altered as a result of something else.
I’m not here to talk politics, I’m kind of politics numb at the moment, and will wait and see what happens going forward, but I’m on my layover in SFO at the moment, on the way back from another visit to Vancouver, and I’ve got time to kill and a blog to write, so I thought I’d take a few minutes and put my thoughts to paper, or maybe more like to bits and bytes, but whatever. Here’s a link to the TC article I stumbled across originally, right before my trip.
What’s the story with H1B visas? How is this related to the Vancouver tech hub?
H1B – just like any other type of working visa, grants permission for non-US citizens to legally work in the US. This one is predominately, though not exclusively, used by tech companies to hire foreign workers, due to a claimed dearth of available US workers.
H1B visas are hard to come by, there are only 85,000 allotted each year, and 6,800 of those are allocated to citizens of Singapore and Chile, due to existing trade agreements.
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In past years, many companies, a lot of them tech, have lobbied to have more H1B visas issued each year – they say that it’s critical to their survival and expansion. There are plenty of people who dispute this claim, I’m not here to judge or determine what private business does or does not need a specific type of person working for them, so let’s keep moving.
Vancouver is a lovely city.
If you haven’t been (or haven’t been lately), it’s the same vibrant, waterfront urban area that it’s always been, but it’s doing some major expansion – lots of housing, lots of new retail, restaurants, and of course, technology business. The Vancouver tech hub is becoming a reality, as more companies – especially those in the US that already can’t get enough H1B visas, park their employees in immigrant friendly Canada and expand their businesses (and their tax base) into non-confrontational Canada.
I’ve already seen any number of businesses springing up in the Vancouver tech hub that are offering what amounts to concierge services for business owners looking to start putting (or put more) employees in Vancouver, instead of in Silicon Valley.
So what do these businesses get from Vancouver?
For starters, they can run business centers at considerably less cost than California, Boston, or even Austin TX. Right now the USD is strong, so it goes a long way in Canada (unlike several years ago when the two were nearly equal). Housing in Vancouver is not inexpensive, by any means, but it’s not blindingly overpriced like Palo Alto or Cupertino.
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Vancouver, as I mentioned above, is a multicultural and vibrant city – tons of restaurants, nightlife, theaters, culture, pretty much all the modern conveniences of living in a world class city. The city has a few rough areas but just like San Francisco or Venice Beach, the rising rents and impending gentrification will probably take care of moving out the bad apples naturally.
Vancouver also has convenience going for it. The Vancouver tech hub is serviced by YVR, the big international airport, and there is at least one more regional airport – Hamilton – that shares the load. It’s merely a three hour drive to Seattle, less than that to Bellingham, so it’s pretty simple to start the morning in Vancouver and finish the day almost anywhere – including Asia destinations, or European ones.
What’s the big deal?
I suppose it’s not really a big deal if you don’t care that very talented tech workers are bypassing America and moving straight to our northern neighbors house. I find that to be shortsighted and provincial thinking, since I’m all for bringing talent to my own country any time we can. Especially top notch talent with brains and the potential to start businesses, with connections to other top notch talent that might be looking for a new home.
The rise of areas like Silicon Valley don’t happen in a bubble – no matter what HBO would have you to believe. You need good education, cutting edge companies, and a willingness to hire and sponsor workers from other countries. And while Silicon Valley may believe that it will never be topped, or find itself in second place, I know there are a ton of people in Seattle who are looking to take the crown, and having the talent of a Vancouver tech hub just down the road would probably go a long way towards helping them fulfill their ambitions.
I don’t care either way. I love Vancouver. The people are nice, the weather is sometimes agreeable, and it’s super easy to get in and out at the airport. I’m happy to go up there a few times a year and hang out.
The seafood is incredible, the ramen and the pho are amazing, and right now it’s like shopping with a 40% discount right out of the gate.