Trump's Travel Ban May Be An Opening for Canadian Industry

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As Silicon Valley tells U.S. courts the blocked travel ban threatens business innovation, Canadian tech start-ups see scared and stranded foreign talent possibly coming north.

When Reuven Gorsht, co-founder and CEO of Toronto tech start-up MoveSnap, considers Donald Trump's blocked Muslim immigration ban, he sees an opening for Canada to woo overseas talent away from Silicon Valley.

"In terms of access to foreign talent, recent events and overall uncertainty from the new administration may be casting doubt for those looking to move to the U.S., making Canada a more attractive option," Gorsht told The Hollywood Reporter.

On Sunday, around 100 tech giants, including Apple, Facebook and Google, submitted an amicus brief to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to support the state of Washington's efforts to halt enforcement of Trump's immigration order. They argued Trump's executive order makes it more difficult and expensive for U.S. companies to recruit, hire and retain the best worldwide tech talent.

If the U.S. court battle eventually restores the immigration ban, Canadian media execs see their cross-border business model having to change in ways that offer possible threats and opportunities. That may include seeing foreign talent impacted by continued travel disruption looking to Canada to live and work.

Harley Finkelstein, COO of Ottawa-based e-commerce software maker Shopify, would welcome the world's best talent coming north to Canada. "Talent is not defined by borders and if they choose to come to Canada, the entire ecosystem will be better for it," Finklestein, whose father came to Canada as an immigrant after the Hungarian revolution in 1955, said.

The focus among the Canucks is also shifting from the Trump's administration's Muslim travel ban to a new executive order in the works to change rules for the H1-B visa, the U.S. work permits used to hire foreign workers.

Canadian visa holders in Silicon Valley and Hollywood are protected under the North American Free Trade Agreement by having their own TN-1 visa, modeled on the H1-B visa process, which can't be changed or curtailed until NAFTA is renegotiated.

But with Trump signaling he wants to reopen NAFTA, Canadians have fears their TN-1 visa process may end up in his cross-hairs. Complicating the upcoming issue is Canadian talent in California possibly getting lumped in with talk of a so-called border adjustment tax and other possible measures against Mexico, which is also signed up to NAFTA.

"Film and TV is about intellectual property. It would be easier if we were talking about avocados, a physical product," David Zitzerman, partner and head of the entertainment law group at Toronto legal firm Goodmans, said of reading the White House tea leaves these days to plan for future cross-border business.

The consensus is Canadian media players, who routinely set up in Los Angeles or Silicon Valley and return home for their next startup or to produce movies and TV shows, will find it more difficult to crisscross the U.S.-Canadian border if the NAFTA agreement is renegotiated.

"On the talent front, our immediate concern is that talent has access to the entire North American market," Alex Norman, co-founder and managing director of Tech Toronto, said.