“Moving to Canada” was always a joke, meant to convey disgust with an election result. Nobody ever actually did it. Until now, says a Vancouver immigration attorney.

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Moving to Canada?

Ha ha, no, of course you’re not. It’s the perennial empty threat. It’s a joke proclaimed around Seattle at every presidential election in which some heinous candidate might win. But it’s never followed up on.

Right?

“We haven’t seen an influx of talent like this from any country to Canada since China in 1989,” Richard Kurland, a Vancouver, B.C., immigration attorney, told me Tuesday.

Wait, China in … 1989?

“Tiananmen Square, remember?” Kurland says. “We had China’s top minds, its scientists and engineers, fleeing from turmoil. Quite a few of them landed up here. That was the last time we saw a deluge of applications motivated by fear. Just as we’re getting from your city and state today.”

Fear?

“It’s all super highly educated individuals I’m hearing from — masters, Ph.D.s, doctors, senior business executives. They’re foreign-born, and quite frankly they’re afraid of your country now. They want out.”

Being Canadian, Kurland ended our talk with a friendly “cheers!”

I had called around in British Columbia because I saw that both Microsoft and Amazon had suggested they might get around the whole mess of President Trump’s immigration travel-ban order by simply relocating a number of tech jobs to Canada.

Also, a company called True North has sprung up overnight, in Vancouver, to take advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to start poaching some of our top technology talent.

More on immigration order

 

“Got U.S. visa worries?” the company’s website goads. “The solution is True North. We make it simple for you to immediately gain the necessary paperwork to set up a Canadian work and residency status similar to what you have in the US, so that you avoid disruptions or uncertainty relating to changing U.S. visa regulations.”

Example: A brief filed by Amazon in the federal case over Trump’s order says the company has 49 workers from the affected Muslim countries, plus seven new hires who are Iranian and an untold number of engineers here on various visas.

“We are currently assessing alternatives that could include placement in countries other than the United States,” wrote Ayesha Blackwell-Hawkins, Amazon’s senior manager of Mobility and Immigration.

That Amazon has a senior manager of immigration is about all you need to know about what a self-inflicted wound this could end up being for America.

“Amazon has an entire staff of full-time people devoted to immigration, as do Microsoft, Google, all the big tech companies,” Michael Shutzler, CEO of the Washington Technology Industry Association, told me. “That’s because it’s part of their core mission to lure in the best and brightest in the world.

“So now, the country founded by immigrants is closed, or partially closed, and instead is the kind of place that the top foreign-born talent runs away from? To Canada? C’mon.”

He added: “I can absolutely confirm that what you heard from Canada isn’t hype or theoretical. The move to find a safer haven for some of our top inventors and engineers is definitely happening.”

Kurland, the Canadian immigration specialist, said in the past they would all enjoy a chuckle or two over the quadrennial “move to Canada” talk in the states. Because they knew it wasn’t real.

This is “an entirely different creature,” he said. Both Microsoft and Amazon already have offices in Vancouver, for example, so shifting foreign-born software talent there is relatively easy.

“Your president is about to find out these are not so much American companies as global companies,” he said.

A few weeks back when this immigration firestorm hit, I wrote that the big choice in America right now is: “Are we going to be an open society, or closed? Open to the world, to trade, to science, to foreign ideas … or closed, hunkered down behind our new walls.”

I didn’t consider corporations when I wrote that. They have become like their own sovereign, extra-national states, and they’ve made their choice. They’re not going to be hunkering with us.

Also: Awkward that there isn’t even a wall planned for our northern border, for the rest of us to hunker down behind.