The Future of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and Canadian Immigration

Published on: Oct 23, 2017 | Tags: Canada Entry Requirements, Canada eTA Eligibility

For some time now, President Donald Trump has been debating whether to end the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which involves Canada and which would have a knock-on effect on Canada immigration and trade. Earlier this month, Trump welcomed Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to the White House to discuss NAFTA and the way forward.

Can a good trade deal be negotiated?

In an interview with Forbes magazine, Trump said that NAFTA would be terminated if it could not be 'made good'. Trump then went on to clarify this, stating that he believed a 'good deal' could not be negotiated. Therefore, the writing seems to be on the wall for NAFTA. Trump has already stopped The Trans-Pacific Partnership in a controversial move. While the future does not look bright for NAPTA, Trump's approach has shifted slightly in that he now states a 'good deal' could be negotiated after cancelling NAFTA.

Officials in Canada have not taken this rhetoric too seriously, considering such remarks to be an integral part of Trump's trade negotiations. However, many Canadians, U.S., and Mexican citizens, such as doctors, engineers, architects and scientists, could be seriously affected by an end to NAFTA. These are among the professional occupations included in NAFTA's “TN” immigration category, which allows certain professionals to get a NAFTA work permit when entering Canada, the U.S., and Mexico for work purposes. 

While the U.S. could leave NAFTA at 6 months' notice, it is unlikely that Trump could achieve this on his own without being challenged by Congress. Nonetheless, it is feared that some Canadian industries would face disruption if NAFTA were to be abolished. Some believe that Ontario would suffer the most but Alberta and New Brunswick could also be badly affected. Ontario and Alberta rely heavily on U.S. exports, as does New Brunswick. Industries that would be hit include the automotive industry, the paper industry, the chemical, mining and aerospace industries and, potentially, even the oil industry. Indeed, 23.5% of the Canadian economy is centered around the export of goods and services. However, since Canadian exports amounted to some 20% before the 1989 Canada and U.S. Free Trade Agreement, the end of NAFTA would not necessarily spell total disaster for Canada.

NAFTA is not the only option for Canada immigration

One of the main benefits of NAFTA is the cross-border flow it enables between the U.S. and Canada. NAFTA is very important for Canada immigration but, if it ends or is renegotiated, this would not necessarily mean the end of smooth and efficient business travel between the two nations. In terms of business travel, Canada's "business visitor" visa is in place to allow people from the U.S. (and some other countries) to enter Canada without needing a work permit. Being exempt from a work permit is important, as getting one can take time and effort. Not only is there a cost but individuals must also undertake a Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA). Even if only visiting Canada for a few days, someone entering for business without a Canada Visa for business would need a work permit to pursue their intended itinerary.

Those qualifying as "business visitors" under Canadian immigration law do not need a work permit and can be allowed to stay in Canada on a temporary basis for up to six months. At the moment, NAFTA allows nationals from member countries (the U.S. and Mexico) to enter Canada as "business visitors" to take part in approved areas of work. If NAFTA negotiations change the work permit arrangements, there are still other means of entry for foreigners coming into Canada, which are as follows: 

Nationals from the U.S.(and Mexico) could still come to Canada as business visitors under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations, which is an agreement with distinct similarities to NAFTA. Alternatively, the Global Skills Strategy, which was set up to help Canadian businesses to attract talented individuals from abroad, helps individuals to enter Canada for business reasons. This strategy does not involve getting a "business visitor" visa but does include several exemptions for work permits for highly skilled workers taking part in short-term projects, including research work. Individuals are eligible based on fairly strict criteria.

Also, individuals may enter Canada using a Canada ETA or a non-business Canada Visa. A Canada ETA is for those from approved countries who want to visit Canada for up to 6 months. Travelers can apply online using their passport information and paying a $7 CDN fee. When approved, the ETA is linked to a traveler's passport. Anyone who is not eligible for an ETA, however, must apply for a Visa, which takes longer.

Going back to NAFTA, at the moment there are no signs that Trudeau's talks with Trump have brought the two sides any closer to reaching a deal.