Skilled Workers and Professionals Keep Visa Rights under New USMCA Trade Deal

After months of negotiations following US President Donald Trump’s pledge to scrap NAFTA, the 24 year old trade agreement between Canada, the USA and Mexico, a new deal was reached minutes before a midnight deadline on September 30, 2018. Despite a number of changes, the new agreement – rechristened the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) – leaves NAFTA provisions for work visas untouched. The retention of the visa program is significant for workers in over 60 professional categories, and for employers across the continent, who will continue to have access to labour from all three countries.

The original NAFTA text on work visas has been preserved in Chapter 16 of the USMCA. Officially “Professionals Under the North American Free Trade Agreement”, the NAFTA visa category is known as a TN visa. It enables professionals and skilled workers who are citizens of Canada, the US, or Mexico to work in any of the three countries. TN visas gained popularity after 2008, when the length of the visa was extended from 1 to 3 years, with unlimited renewals.

Both Canada and the US claim that the revamped trade agreement benefits workers in both countries, however there are some clear winners and losers in regards to the unchanged visa provisions.

Evidently, the preservation of TN visa program is a victory for professionals who are on the list of eligible occupations, especially after fears that President Trump would axe the visas entirely. To champion his “Buy American, Hire American” initiative, Trump had claimed he would end the program, or at least limit visa renewals and shorten the list of professions. Thus the decision to keep the TN visas is a disappointment to many Trump supporters and conservative critics of NAFTA. They believe it is too easy for foreign workers to occupy local jobs, especially since there are no official statistics on the numbers of Canadians and Americans obtaining TN visas or the types of jobs they are hired for.

In contrast, Canada had sought to increase citizens’ ease of working across the continent and expand the eligible occupations. Largely, this was intended to modernize the TN visa program to include professions that didn’t yet exist in 1994, especially those in the IT sector. Therefore, the lack of expansion is a loss for digital or tech workers and employers.

For Canada, the compromise means that Canadian businesses can continue to hire skilled American and Mexican workers while bypassing the Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA), which usually requires evidence that a Canadian cannot fill the position. Canadian professionals, including engineers, doctors, nurses, hotel managers, land surveyors, and accountants, are among those workers who continue to benefit from the program. To work in the United States, eligible Canadians do not need to apply for a visa, but simply be granted TN status at a port of entry to the USA.

FWCanada is a Montreal-based immigration law firm that provides professional legal services on Canadian immigration. For more tips and updates on Canadian immigration follow FWCanada on FacebookTwitter, and Linkedin.

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