For the meaning of the acronyms below, please refer to this link.
- 08-01-2017: Decision to apply for Canada Permanent Residence
- 17-03-2017: First job offer from Canada
- 19-04-2017: Invitation to apply
- 27-06-2017: Application submitted and Acknowledgment of Receipt from IRCC
- 04-07-2017: LMIA approved (through the Global Talent Stream, independent of Permanent Residence application)
- 15-07-2017: Landed in Canada as a temporary worker
- 15-07-2017: Medical Passed (for PR application)
- 29-07-2017: Requests for PCCs from Singapore and Netherland; Uploaded PCCs
- 18-07-2017: Ready for Visa / Prêt pour Visa email
- 05-10-2017: Flagpoling at Peace Bridge (Fort Érié)
Each candidate is unique and everyone has to decide for themselves to what extent my experience is relevant to them. It is only fair for me to share some personal background so that each reader can compare their own situation to mine.
- Education: Master in Computer Science from Leiden University in the Netherlands, and MBA from Wharton School in the US.
- Work experience: I had several jobs. I worked as a management consultant, a quant, and an equity analyst in the Netherlands, did an internship at Google during the MBA, and was hired fulltime as a Data Scientist at Twitter in San Francisco for one year, before moving to Singapore after H1B lottery non-selection in September 2016.
Decision to move to Canada
Singapore was never meant as a place to settle down.
When I learned in May 2016 that I most likely did not win the H1B lottery, I made an agreement with Twitter that I would work at Twitter in either London or Singapore for one year before moving back to San Francisco. Twitter would re-apply for an H1B visa in 2017 and, if I got unlucky again, apply for an L1 visa, for which there is no quota and thus also no lottery.
I chose Singapore mainly because it was more financially advantageous. Brexit came in June 2016 and that meant my salary would suddenly drop by 20% extra, on top of the “salary adjustment” across different Twitter offices. Singapore, on the other hand, offered higher after-tax income even compared to the US, thanks to their extremely low income tax. It also seemed more adventurous for someone who had never been to South East Asia before.
However, I knew from the very beginning that I would never choose to settle down in Singapore. Same-sex relationships are not recognised there and my partner could not even get a long-term visa. We were planning to have children and certainly Singapore would not be the right place for our children to grow up. After having lived in Singapore for a while, it became even clearer that Singapore and I were fundamentally incompatible. Certain values that I hold precious,such as equality or individual freedom, are not considered important at all in the Singaporean
US became less and less attractive.
Even when I was in the US, I knew it would be a rather long process for me to become a US permanent resident and eventually a citizen. For people from most countries, it takes about 1.5 years after the their employer has submitted the Green Card petition. (For people from India or China, the process could take a few decades. USCIS does not publish how many people are currently in the queue, and therefore no one really knows how long it would take for an Indian whose petition is submitted today.) This means that I would have to find another job very quickly to keep the “status” if got fired. Otherwise, I would have to leave the US. To some extent, my decision to stay in the US after
my MBA was simply due to inertia.
On 8 Novemeber 2016, Mr. Donald Trump became President Elect. As someone who is socially liberal but fiscally conservative, I was not necessarily against the Republican Party. In fact, I even believed (and I still believe) that Mr. Trump deserved some respect for his tenacity and unorthodox approach. However, his seemingly unpredictability would make a foreign worker’s legal status even more precarious.
I started considering alterantives to the US. Obvious choices, other than going back to Europe, were Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.
On 6 January 2017, I learned from Twitter that they would “prioritize” the L1 visa over H1B, because the former was almost guaranteed while the latter would face the same uncertainty again. However, an L1 visa would be tied to Twitter and I would not be able to seek employment with another employer in the US. If I got fired, I would have no choice but to leave the US. This finally helped me make up my mind to give up the “American dream”.
I weighed my options and chose Canada.
Obviously I could go back to Europe. But as a very pro-EU person, I was concerned about the rise of populism in Europe. Back then, it seemed not unlikely for populist parties such as the PVV in the Netherlands or le Front Nationale in France to win national elelctions. I figured that I could always move back to Europe any time in the future if the EU existed. On the other hand, I would not want to live in Europe should the EU disintegrate eventually. I need to gain permanent residence, or even better, citizenship, in a non-European country if only as an insurance policy.
Australia and New Zealand seemed fine. And in fact, I contacted Wharton alumni in these two countries to get some better idea about life there and especially the job markets. I got the impression that job opportunities in these two countries, for a Data Scientist, were rather limited. Also, their points-based systems are quite a bit more complicated than the Canadian one.
On 8 January 2017, I decided to apply for Canada Permanent Residence.
To become a Canadian Permanent Resident through the Federal Skilled Worker stream, one needs the following. (For more details, please refer to Useful Links)
At that time, assuming my IELTS would fall within the highest band, I would have 443 points for myself (by declaring my partner as non-accompanying) or 419 for my partner and me together. It was far from clear whether the minimum requirement would fall below 443 or 419 points sometime in 2017.
I considered two possibilities to raise my CRS: a) improving my French, which I could already read very well, and b) getting a job offer.
On 21 January, I took IELTS and got the results two weeks later. I had 9.0 / 8.5 / 9.0 / 8.5 for reading / writing / listening / speaking. Indeed within the highest band.
On 2 February, I had my first private lesson to improve my spoken French. (I had it twice a week and eventually it turned out that I did not need French as the CRS requirement went down.)
In my case, the most time consuming part was to get FBI Clearance for both me and my partner. Since neither of us is a US citizen or Permanent Resident, it took about three months.
Eventually I did not really need the 50 points from an LMIA-approved job offer. But I have decided to include the process any way since it may be of great interest to many other candidates.
I started sending my CV on websites like indeed.ca and tried to contact recruiters on LinkedIn. I thought it would be easy given my academic and professional background. But I got virtually no response. It seemed that Canadian companies did not want to waste time on me.
I changed my strategy and started contacting Wharton alumni working in Canada. On 31 January 2017, I talked to an alumnus who was active in the startup community in Toronto. He introduced me to another extremely well-connected Wharton alumnus, with whom I talked on 14 February. The second alumnus suggested that I should focus on my Computer Science or Data Science background rather than the MBA. He sent out emails directly to the founders/CEOs of more than 20 Toronto-based startups and VCs. The response rate to his introduction email was above 90%. My calendar was filled with Hangouts interviews between 21 February and 17 March. (I was focusing on startups because I was frankly fed up with the politics and bureaucracy at big firms. Also, financially I wouldn’t worry much if I am out of job for the rest of my life.)
With most firms, both sides decided not proceed after the first interview. A few other companies were very interested in me but it was too early for them to hire a data scientist. Eventually I got three job offers from firms that would like to hire me immediately.
- Platterz: I had my first interview directly with the CEO on 4 March and got their official job offer on 17 March. The company had about 20 people and had just finished their seed funding. I would be reporting directly to the CEO. The job responsibilities were not clearly defined and would most likely be a mixture of data science, product, and business.
- Helpful: I had the first interview on 21 February and got an initial job offer orally on 27 March. (They sent me the official offer later.) The company had about 20 people and was pre-seed. My job would be more about software engineering than about data science.
- Wattpad: I had the first interview on 22 February and got the official offer on 15 April. (The process took much longer because I took a two-week vacation back in Holland.) The company had been around for about 10 years and had about 200 people. It was still pre-IPO. The job was about machine learning and I would report to a data science manager in a team of about 10 people.
I was still in process with quite a few other companies, such as RBC, wealthsimple, and Clearbanc. But I stopped the process with them once I had already been convinced to join Platterz.
My cash salary was 120,000 USD in San Francisco, was adjusted to 130,000 SGD when I moved to Singapore in September 2016, and raised to 145,000 SGD in April 2017. The three Canadian firms offered between 100,000 CAD and 150,000 CAD. I am not including any equity compensations here since they are difficult to value any way, but please keep in mind that with both my job at Twitter and that at Platterz, equity is supposed to be a significant part of my compensation.
Financially Canada is rather disadvantageous compared to what I have in Singapore, where the income tax is about 10% instead of the 30% in Ontario. But as I explained earlier, Canada is for me also an insurance policy which will pay off if Europe goes to hell. I consider the loss of net income my insurance premium.
Below are the most important lessons that I learned.
- Hard skills (coding, analytics, mathematics, etc.) can land you a job much more easily than soft skills. Your management experience or people skills are likely to be irrelevant for your first job in Canada.
- Websites like indeed.ca or the Job Bank are useless, at least for someone like me who is currently outside Canda. In fact, some of the job postings are in some sense fake. For example, both Platterz and Helpful posted a vacancy to fulfil the LMIA requirement for me. They wrote the job description to fit me and had no immediate intention to hire someone else.
- Use your personal network. If you can find someone who connects you directly to the CEO, the chance for you to get an offer will be very high.
- Expect lower compensation if you are used to Silicon Valley salaries.
Land in Canada
To get me onboard as soon as possible - the PR process could take up to six months - my future employer decided to first get me a work visa through the new Global Talent Stream launched on June 12. It took in total ten business days as promised by the Canadian government. The whole process was officially finalized on 4 July. The end result was essentially an LMIA.
Meanwhile, I managed to gather all the required documents and submitted the e-APR on 26 June, before the LMIA was issued. I turned out that my partner and I had enough points as the CRS requirement kept declining.
I applied for an ETA (Electronic Travel Authorization), which cost 7 CAD and took less than a minute online, booked a one-way ticket for Toronto, and left Singapore on 15 July.
Upon landing at Toronto Pearson International Airport, I told the immigration officer that I had an LMIA and needed a work permit. I was re-directed to a big hall. The whole process was very smooth. No weird questions that would make people feel they were treated as potential illegal immigrants or terrorists. It took five minutes for me to get the work permit and cost me 155 CAD, which was eventually paid by Platterz.
My First Three Months in Canada
Express Entry Completeness Check
Express Entry Step by step instructions
Express Entry in a nutshell