Meet Herman Van Reekum!
On March 13, Newland Chase’s Senior Advisor for Canada, Herman Van Reekum, and Ken Nickel-Lane, Managing Director of Canada, presented their webinar Cracking the Code: Canada’s Fast-Tracked Immigration Streams for the Global Tech Industry. They discussed the exciting opportunities for companies in the technology fields presented by Canada’s new Global Skills Strategy and Global Talent Stream. Central to the discussion was how companies can utilize Canada’s innovative immigration system to attract and retain top tech talent and minimize the risks from the protectionist shifts in immigration policy at play in other countries in the Americas region and Europe. As he prepared for the webinar, Global Legal Analyst and webinar host, Kent O’Neil, had a chance to speak with Herman on a snowy day at his second home in British Columbia, Canada.
Kent: I love the topic for this month’s webinar. The tech industry is obviously the major growth sector of the global economy right now and is likely to remain that way for decades… and Canada seems to be making a real play for its share of tech companies and talent with the new Global Skills Strategy and Global Talent Stream. But, playing “devil’s advocate” for a moment… isn’t this just short-term opportunism on Canada’s part in light of what’s happening next door in the U.S. with the current Trump administration and the potential scaling back of its H1-B Visa program?
Herman: Well, it certainly is fortuitous timing for Canada… but the recognition that immigration plays a vital role in economic development is by no means a new concept in the government.
Canada’s history from the beginning is one of developing itself through the contributions of talented and hard-working people who came to this country from somewhere else to make a life for themselves. I believe that the recent addition of the GSS and GTS is simply taking that strategy to the next level in our high-tech and globalizing world.
Being able to attract high-end talent and have them placed quickly is almost certainly going to expand Canadian business… but also attract global companies to open or expand Canadian operations. We’re already seeing that trend in Ontario and British Colombia with significant Fortune 500 tech company presences and rapidly growing start-ups scenes.
Kent: You said “globalizing world.” Aren’t there signs that the trend toward globalization is slowing or reversing, and countries are becoming more nationalistic and more protectionist. Maybe this globalization trend has run its course?
Herman: Granted there are some countries that are reversing themselves right now, especially on the subject of immigration… the U.S. under the current administration, the UK with Brexit, some European countries are seeing a resurgence in protectionist election candidates… but I believe the long-term reality is that the world will continue to globalize, and forward-thinking companies and governments (like Canada) are going to embrace it or have difficulty competing.
As Senior Advisor for Canada, Herman Van Reekum is Newland Chase’s top subject matter expert on Canadian immigration and often consults with government officials on Canadian immigration policy. Herman had already earned his Master’s in Political Science from the University of Calgary (and had started work toward his Ph.D.) when he responded to a government job advertisement for a labour analyst. Once in that position, another internal job posting led him from labour to immigration and to the then twenty-something Herman supervising a team of eight investigators in the government’s immigration enforcement unit.
After seven years with the Canadian government, Herman made the life-changing decision to leave the security of government service for the unknown of starting his own labour and immigration consulting firm. Over the next 25 years, that fledgling start-up grew to become one of Canada’s most successful and respected specialist corporate immigration firms, before eventually being acquired by Newland Chase’s parent company, CIBTVisas, in 2014.
Kent: I’m always fascinated by hearing the stories of how successful entrepreneurs make that initial decision to leave a job and a regular pay check to venture out into “uncharted waters” and start their own businesses. Was it a major life event or was it something you always wanted to do?
Herman: Looking back I wasn’t unhappy with my job in government. I was twenty-something, had my Masters in Poly-Sci and was supervising a small department and essentially viewed as a “rising star” who was going to have a long and successful career in government. I suppose I just looked ahead and couldn’t see myself 20 years down that road. And I already could see how much companies, especially in my home city of Calgary, needed quality assistance in bringing needed labour from overseas to support their operations. Some part of me also saw it as a way to do some good for Alberta… growing business and the economy in a province of Canada that needed more opportunity for its residents.
Kent: Before I let you go, let’s get away from all the “shop talk” on immigration, just off the top of your head, give me three things that a lot of your colleagues and clients might not know about you. And don’t worry, I won’t put this in the article. (fingers crossed)
Herman: I love to play the guitar… but don’t play as well as I’d like. That’s one. Number two… I keep bees and have been known to show up at the office giving out a jar or two of honey. And three… I am secretly working on a novel… but don’t tell that to anyone. Then I’ll be committed to actually finish it. (chuckles)
Kent: Don’t worry. Your secret is safe with me… writer’s confidentiality. Just between us, I’ve got a half-finished one on my laptop too. So looking back… had the world already had enough corporate immigration experts and you could rewrite your life story… anything else you would have done for a living?
Herman: Honestly, I wouldn’t change much. I built a great business, have been married to my wife now for 38 years, I’m a father and a grandfather now. I’ve enjoyed it all, including long professional relationships and friendships with colleagues and clients that continue to this day. Except… maybe I might have squeezed in a few years as a professional musician. Toured the world playing in a rock band? My son toured for a few years with a punk band, performing in Europe, sleeping on couches from city to city. I’m a little jealous. There’s something adventurous and romantic in that.