Microsoft is relocating AI researchers from China to Canada, potentially destroying a vital tech talent development hub in the Asian nation.

Microsoft is relocating AI researchers from China to Canada, potentially destroying a vital tech talent development hub in the Asian nation. The move involves starting the visa application process for these experts to relocate to Beijing-based Microsoft Research Asia (MSRA)’s Vancouver institute.

They claimed that 20 to 40 employees may be impacted by the relocation. Fewer Chinese employees will relocate to Canada this year, according to a source close to Microsoft, where the US tech giant is opening a new lab staffed by professionals from all over the world.

The action was referred to by researchers as the “Vancouver Plan.” Those with knowledge of the decision described it as a defensive move to prevent top talent from being poached by domestic tech groups desperate for AI researchers to develop homegrown variants of OpenAI’s ChatGPT as well as a reaction to the escalating political tensions between the US and China.

Microsoft clarified that the reported number is inaccurate and that there is no “Vancouver Plan.” The company announced the establishment of a new lab in Vancouver, aligned with MSRA, to better engage engineering teams and staffed by MSR labs worldwide, including China.

Despite recent job offers from Chinese internet companies, two MSRA researchers claimed they have rejected the approaches and are now applying for visas to move to Canada.

Even though Microsoft has strong ties to China, one of the researchers said, “There is a risk in having our best researchers here, especially ones working in machine learning.”

“There is a chance that Chinese businesses will steal talent, or that employees will face harassment from the authorities. These risks have been covered in internal meetings.” A Canadian researcher suggests relocating top AI researchers to a third country to revive the tech discussion.

Beijing is seeking to attract high-tech Chinese researchers to the mainland through grants and teaching posts. MSRA, founded by Taiwanese computer scientist Lee Kai-Fu, is a significant training center for Chinese tech talent, with alumni including Alibaba CEO Wang Jian, SenseTime CEO Xu Li, and Megvii AI group head Yin Qi.

One tech consultant in China who had previously worked for Microsoft said, “MSRA’s contribution to AI has been phenomenal.” It has a long history of success in the field. Numerous former coworkers have joined Chinese tech firms, enhancing China’s overall AI ecosystem.

Despite competition from Western tech companies like Google, eBay, Facebook, and Uber for more than three decades, Microsoft has maintained a significant presence in China.

The business created well-known localised products like the Bing search engine, Office, and Windows software suites. Over 8,000 of Microsoft’s 9,000 employees in China were software engineers or researchers as of September. The business intends to add 1,000 more employees in the nation.

If relations between Beijing and Washington deteriorate, the US company may face difficulties given that a sizeable portion of the engineering talent in China works on products sold all over the world. Some talented engineers may eventually be relocated outside of China, according to a source close to the company.

InCareer, a website for Chinese users to apply for jobs, was shut down by LinkedIn, a Microsoft-owned company, and staff members were let go from its China office.

MSRA stood out as a singular instance of China and US high-tech research cooperation. However, two researchers claimed that deteriorating relations between the two powers and growing paranoia over their respective technological ambitions had made it harder for them to work with colleagues in the west and increased scrutiny from Chinese officials.

After the Financial Times revealed that the institute collaborated with a Chinese military-run university on AI research that could be used for surveillance and censorship, Washington criticised the institute.

One of the Chinese Microsoft researchers who was applying for a visa to Canada claimed that “AI has become a so-called sensitive field over the past two years.” “In the past, working in an American institution as a Chinese national meant having access to excellent resources from both nations. The area for communication is getting smaller.