WASHINGTON – The promotional video,set to techno,was fast-paced and cut to shots of wild horses galloping across meadows and snowboarders blasting through powdery slopes.
“Escape,” the female voice-over said. “Get up and go.”
That was the Alberta government's message to about 200 people attending an informational session at the Canadian Embassy Monday. The session was aimed at foreign nationals working in the U.S. on temporary visas. While the holders of these H-1B visas,who can live and work in the U.S. for up to six years,can become permanent residents,making the transition can be difficult and take years.
One person thinking about getting up and going to Canada is Kashif Qadir,a 24-year-old graduate student from Lahore,Pakistan. He said Canada appears more open to newcomers than the United States.
“I believe the world is changing,and other countries are more welcoming,” said the resident of Washington suburb Potomac,Md.
Qadir has a student visa,but he attended the information session because he is interested in job opportunities after he completes his master of business administration at the University of Maryland. Alberta representatives said he could qualify for different job programs and referred him to a Web site,where Qadir said he found a couple of matches.
“They need people in the restaurant business who speak Hindu,Urdu and Punjabi,” said the marketing major,who speaks all three languages. “I've already applied.”
Qadir said he hopes he can transfer his credits to a school in Alberta and complete his master's there.
Steady growth in the western province's oil,forestry and beef sectors has brought prosperity to the region. However,with growth comes the need for skilled labor,including engineers,managers,scientists and medics.
Alberta faces a potential shortage of more than 100,000 skilled workers by 2015,which is why the province is reaching out to temporary workers seeking to settle in North America,inviting them to take advantage of the province's low crime rate,affordable housing and Canada's universal health care program.
Making the offer even more appealing is the Alberta Immigrant Nominee Program,which helps H-1B holders gain permanent residency in six to 12 months. The program was launched in 2002 and became permanent in May 2007.
Gary Mar,minister-counselor from Alberta,said Canadian immigration services would still perform background checks on all applicants,but the process would be expedited for H-1B holders.
“It helps that they are already working in the U.S. and are known to have skills,” he said.
Although a U.S.-issued H-1B visa is needed for eligibility,Mar said the United States has no role in the Nominee Program.
“The United States has the capacity,if it really wanted to,to issue green cards to those individuals with H-1Bs,” he said,referring to the card given to permanent residents who are not citizens. “If it chooses not to give green cards,such individuals are,of course,free to choose where they go.”
However,Alberta's offer of job opportunities and stability may come as bad news to the U.S.
“Is it bad for the U.S. economy? Yes,because it's taking skilled labor away from the U.S.,” said Saori Ishida,a lawyer at the Immigration Law Group in Washington.
She said Alberta's ability to grant permanent residency in six to 12 months is an attractive incentive to some people.
“If they think U.S. immigration procedures are too cumbersome,some may go to Canada,where the process is faster,” Ishida said.
Ernie Goss,an economics professor at Creighton University in Omaha,Neb.,said the United States has been less receptive to skilled foreign workers since the Sept. 11,2001,terrorist attacks,resulting in shortages of workers for emerging industries such as ethanol plants and high-tech companies.
“Canada would have a competitive edge,as they aren't as negatively affected by 9/11 as we have been. Alberta is just taking advantage of the United States' less competitive recruitment,” he said. “I certainly applaud Alberta for saying,‘Yeah,we'll take them.'”
Interested in moving to Alberta for more opportunities are Omar Perdomo,45,and Victoria Rojas,38,from Bogota,Colombia.
They and their children – two daughters,ages 13 and 15,and a son,17 – came to the United States as political refugees,escaping the guerilla violence of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia,or FARC.
In Bogota,Perdomo was a dispatcher for Colombian airline Avianca and Rojas was a nurse. However,language barriers and their visa status prevent them from attaining similar positions in the U.S. Living in Silver Spring,Md.,a Washington suburb,Perdomo is a construction worker and Rojas is a homemaker.
Perdomo said they want to work in higher-level positions and won't seek permanent residency in the U.S. when their visas expire in 2010.
“We can't apply what we know because we have not had the chance here,” he said. “We are working in positions below that of which we are capable.”
The family heard about the opportunity to move to Alberta through a friend,and attending the information session reinforced their interest.
“The presentation was very good,very clear,and there are job matches for us,” he said. Although they are here as refugees,Alberta representatives told Perdomo his family should apply for the program,and the Canadian government would take his family's case into consideration.
He and his wife have talked to their children about Alberta.
“They love change,and this would be a good opportunity for them,and it would be easy for us to move,” Perdomo said.