[Missed this last week in Europe] Microsoft is opening an R&D shop here in Vancouver, and they’re doing it specifically because of immigration issues. News Flash: Most of the really smart people in the world aren’t Americans and don’t live in the U.S. But if you want to gather a bunch of them together to take on hard problems, you probably can’t do it in America because of US immigration law. Canada looks like a good alternative: if you’ve got an established business willing you to hire you for a technology job at a decent salary, you can get a temporary-worker visa here pretty well right away. (Furthermore, if you like it and don’t commit any major crimes, you can then arrange to stay and become a citizen.)

Canada’s a good place to build technology. It’s a good place to live. It’s an easy place to get into. Microsoft isn’t stupid. I think this is a big deal.



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Comment feed for ongoing:Comments feed

From: John (Jul 12 2007, at 15:28)

But why do you have to gather people in a physical location at all? Why can't people work remotely?

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From: Mark (Jul 12 2007, at 18:22)

I think you let your critical instincts fail you here, Tim--although I can understand that a little patriotic pride on your part may have caused you to not look into the details.

There's no particular numerical limit on hiring skilled foreigners in the U.S. if comparable citizens are not to be found, although the paperwork takes a bit of time. This Vancouver situation is not about that. It's about the so-called H1-B visa, which is a sort of end-run where foreigners can be hired despite the presence of qualified U.S. citizens. The point here is to hire Indians at lower pay than U.S. workers find acceptable.

Microsoft likes the H1-B visa since they can replace highly paid Americans with Indians (as they will now be able to replace moderately paid Canadians with Indians), and do so in the indentured-serf-like form of the H1-B (which ties the employee to Microsoft, not allowing job mobility). A normal skilled immigrant visa (a form of the so-called green card) gives the employee the right to change employers, and to remain permanently in the U.S and take citizenship if desired.

There are certainly problems with the U.S. immigration system, but expanding H1-B is not the answer. The skilled immigrant green card process needs to be sped up, the paperwork reduced, and the process for determining whether equivalent employees are available in the U.S. loosened up considerably.

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From: Tim (but not THE Tim) (Jul 12 2007, at 19:08)

For some reason probably rooted deep in our history, sometimes a group of humans gets more creative when they have free-wheeling, multi-party, parallel discussions, which work best in one location. Working remotely can of course be effective, but it tends to serialize everything on the communications, eliminating more of the "aha!" moments which occur from hearing bits and pieces of everything going on.

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From: Will Hughes (Jul 12 2007, at 22:10)

John Writes: "But why do you have to gather people in a physical location at all? Why can't people work remotely?"

The point of gathering people together in one location is that its much easier to bounce ideas off each other and work together if you're in the same location.

To use an analogy: The bandwidth is much greater, and response time negligible when you're face to face.

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From: Ifeanyi Echeruo (Jul 12 2007, at 22:13)

For the same reasons really good bands jam together.

There is a magical something that happens when talent gets together and clicks.

Humans just wired that way I guess.

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From: Joe (Jul 13 2007, at 04:49)

Yep, it's too bad that "immigration issues" are preventing more friendly people from getting in to the U.S. But, as you know there are these folks called Islamic Terrorists who are trying to get in and kill our women and children, so we have to keep a somewhat tight rein on who comes in. Undoubtedly, we make it painful for the good folks, while trying to keep out the bad.

Besides, I'm not sure what "immigration issues" you're referring to. Thousands come across the Mexican border every day. No documentation required!

BTW, where did this generalization come from - "Most of the really smart people in the world aren’t Americans and don’t live in the U.S." Tim - I know you're a smart guy, but do you really know all the "really smart people" in the world and where they live? That's impressive.

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From: Anon for this one (Jul 13 2007, at 06:17)

As someone how as been through the MSFT hiring mill (hence anon), don't put it past them that this will just be a H1B staging post. Think of it as Vancouver == Ellis Island and you won't be far wrong.

Any Microsoftie will tell you that the only office of any importance to them is the 'Mothership', i.e. Corp Redmond.

I'd suspect no dev will get done north of the border, but there will be a lot of traffic on the border for 'meetings' south.

It also puts political pressure for a higher H1B quota for them next year, which is where the main investment is probably justified.

http://blogs.msdn.com/jobsblog/archive/2007/07/12/all-about-vancouver-part-1.aspx

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From: Jacek (Jul 13 2007, at 07:00)

Joe, have you considered how 6 billion is way more than 300 million? Even if the rest of the world was half as smart as the US, there would still be 10 times more really smart people outside the US. I'm sure Tim would be the first to say the same thing about Canada as well, because it basically applies to all countries (even though the ratio is not so large for India and China).

And Mark, I used to want to live in the US, and I don't think I'd have much of a problem getting there, but in the recent years I've stopped wanting that. If I was considering a Microsoft position, Vancouver would be favoured over Redmond.

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From: Janne (Jul 13 2007, at 08:27)

"BTW, where did this generalization come from - "Most of the really smart people in the world aren’t Americans and don’t live in the U.S." Tim - I know you're a smart guy, but do you really know all the "really smart people" in the world and where they live? That's impressive."

Joe, most people in the world do not live in the US. Intellectual ability is not correlated with nationality. So, most really smart people do not live in the US. Most really dumb people - or really musical people, or people with split hair ends - don't live in the US either, of course, but the point here is that if you're a company and want to be able to search for good people among the entire pool of smart people, looking only in the US is rather restrictive.

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From: Joe (Jul 13 2007, at 11:42)

Point taken on the "way more smart people outside the U.S." comments. Think I was reading something into the statement that wasn't there - as in, a higher percentage of the people outside the U.S. are "really smart" compared to the percentage of those in the U.S. My bad. Boy, do I feel dumb.

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From: Aristotle Pagaltzis (Jul 13 2007, at 16:34)

> Islamic Terrorists who are trying to get in and kill our women and children

So if you’re this terrified of them**, I guess you’re staying way the heck away from any car-traffic-bearing roads and avoid bars like the devil? ’Cause traffic accidents and tobacco and alcohol “kill our women and children” far more effectively, efficiently and on a wider scale than terrorism ever has.

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** Since the goal of terrorism, by definition, is to cause terror, I guess this means “mission accomplished” for the terrorists.

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From: Rob (Jul 13 2007, at 19:22)

Um, I actually know something about this immigration stuff business, and especially from a Canadian point of view.

It actually turns out that visas for bright single tech people (usually male) is of rather limited benefit to Canada. Yeah we get some tech capability/cred out of having them, but statistically they have a distressing tendency to a)move on to greener pastures, and as a corollary b) not hang around and reproduce and otherwise significantly invest in the country, which is really what we really need immigrants for in the long run.

I am sorry that the Western economies are for quite irrational reasons having a great deal of trouble making face-time for bright guys. This pales beside the reality that they are also strangling on a shortage of butchers, bakers, and candlestick makers, but that doesn't get blogged about so much, and those people are much much likelier to stick, and have kids who will be inventors and entrepreneurs and yes even major capitalists (the record of the second generation in North America is truly astonishing, always has been).

The state that can figure out how to import and integrate the biggest number of people that make things with their hands and have lots of children is who they want to vaunt up into the middle class gonna win, in the next century or so, I think, taking a long view.

I suspect that what Tim is seeing is a local anomaly, and not likely to last all that long. Unless the US really wants to cut its own throat as publicly and stupidly as possible, which is not beyond reasonable expectations these days, given the track record.

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From: Mark (Jul 14 2007, at 18:36)

This blog post from Microsoft HR seems to confirm anon-for-this-one's suspicions.

Microsoft will be parking any new hire who can't get an HB-1 visa in Vancouver, if the hire's manager approves. No complete research teams or work teams will be stationed there for now. Meanwhile, HB-1 expansion lobbying continues. Presumably, people will be moved to Seattle as soon as visas can be obtained.

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From: D T (Jul 23 2007, at 13:06)

"It’s an easy place to get into."

Yes, we have learned that Canada is an easy place to get into, which is why it is now harder to get into the USA from Canada.

It is especially amusing that Quebec is allowed to have its own immigration policy, favoring people from francophone nations, but once in Quebec, such immigrants are allowed anywhere in Canada. Does the name "Ahmed Ressam" ring a bell?

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