The North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) between Canada, United States (US) and Mexico liberalizes and protects trade among these three countries. In meeting the trade objectives, NAFTA allows for the temporary entry of selected professionals and investors of American, Mexican and Canadian citizenship to work and engage in business across borders more freely than workers from other countries. It is a reciprocal agreement, and thus allows Mexican and US citizens to work in Canada and for Canadians to work in Mexico and the US.
If you are from Mexico or the US and have an interest in working, trading or investing in Canada, you may qualify under NAFTA for temporary entry or a temporary work permit. NAFTA provides great opportunities for Mexican and US professionals to temporarily work or do business in Canada with ease. It is important to understand each category and the requirements before assuming you qualify. What is outlined here is only a brief overview of the program. For more information, visitwww.cic.gc.ca or contact your local Canadian consulate or embassy.
NAFTA is open to professionals that fall under four categories:
- Intra-company transferees
- Business visitors
- Investors and traders
Intra-Company Transferees (ICT)
This category is quite common between the US and Canada, especially among major American companies that have subsidiaries or branches in Canada. As an intra-company transferee, you can apply for a work permit without a Labour Market Opinion (LMO). In most cases when a Canadian company wants to hire a foreign national, it must apply for an LMO from Service Canada and demonstrate it cannot find a permanent resident or Canadian for the position. Service Canada then issues a positive LMO, which is submitted along with a work permit application by the foreign national. This can take weeks or months to obtain and a positive LMO is not guaranteed.
In addition, as an ICT, a work permit can be valid for up to 5 years for executives and senior managers, or 7 years for specialized knowledge workers. To qualify, the core requirements are:
- Employment with US or Mexican company that has a branch, subsidiary, parent or affiliate company in Canada,
- Work for at least 1 year of the last 3 years with the foreign company,
- Maintain an executive or senior management position, or be considered a specialized knowledge worker with essential and unique skills,
- Hold an offer for a position with the Canadian branch, subsidiary, parent or affiliate similar to the role in the related foreign company.
Canadian companies can be start-ups or expansions of a foreign company. These foreign companies send a senior or skilled person to help establish or expand the Canadian branch or subsidiary.
Professionals are those that have pre-arranged employment with a Canadian company and are in one of the 60 occupations listed under the NAFTA agreement, which includes accountants, architects, land surveyors, many science-related professions, and even post-secondary instructors. They do not require an LMO, but a work permit along with proof of education and experience in that field.
For a list of NAFTA professionals, visit the NAFTA Secretariat website.
Business visitors come to Canada to conduct business with an international scope, involving activities like research and design, distribution, marketing and sales. Their business is predominantly outside of Canada and they have no intention to enter the Canadian labour market. As a result, they do not have to obtain a work permit, however they do need to declare their status as a business visitor upon entering Canada.
Traders can apply for a temporary work permit and work in Canada to facilitate the trade of goods and services between Canada and their home country. The initial work permit is granted for up to one year, but can be extended for a duration of two years.
Traders must be employed by a Mexican or US company in an executive or supervisor role, or have essential skills. Over 50% of total volume of trade by the company must be between Canada and the US or Mexico. Furthermore, the trading must be considered substantial. ‘Substantial Trade’ is determined by the volume and monetary value of the trade.
Investors can apply for a temporary work permit to come to Canada and invest, develop and direct an enterprise. The person seeking entry should usually be in an executive or supervisory role with the foreign company. While there here is no minimum dollar amount to invest, the investment must be considered substantial. To determine if an investment is substantial, officers are directed to conduct a ‘proportionality test’, which is based on the amount invested vs. the total value of the company or the amount deemed necessary to establish the type of business. For example, an investment of $50,000 for a small business with few operating costs may be deemed substantial; or a $1 million investment for a plant valued at $8 million may qualify.
Like the trader category, the initial work permit is granted for up to one year, but can be extended for a duration of two years.
The advantages of working under NAFTA are:
- Many professional workers are exempt from needing a LMO.
- Business visitors are not required to apply for a work permit.
- It allows for quick processing of professionals and intra-company transferees who need a work permit, since applicants can apply and be issued a work permit by an immigration officer at the Canadian border upon entering the count