USMCA – What Does It Mean for Canadian Firms and Professionals?

Canadians seeking non-immigrant working visas, and renewal of such visas, should be aware of potential changes to existing agreements when the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) takes effect in early 2019.

An Overview of USMCA, or CUSMA

The United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) was finalised on September 30, 2018, and is expected to take effect around January 1, 2020, until which point NAFTA remains in force. Also commonly referred to as CUSMA in official documents, the trilateral trade deal is a renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and retains nearly all of the original Agreement’s central provisions as originally implemented in 1994.

In addition to the economic trade deals involved, the USMCA includes a labour mobility provision, similar to the Trade National (TN) agreement represented in NAFTA. Under NAFTA, the TN-1 visa allows Canadian and Mexican citizens with relevant education and qualifications with an existing U.S. job offer in a profession on the NAFTA list to legally work in the United States. [1]

What will change with the USMCA?

As the USMCA is expected to uphold the TN-1 visa agreement consistent with NAFTA, few changes are apparent on paper. Until USMCA is implemented, the TN-1 visa and NAFTA mobility provisions should remain in place and employers looking to hire can rely on the existing pathways. However, each country will have the authority to interpret the provisions of the new agreement individually, meaning this may be subject to country-specific policies regarding immigration.

Stanley Leo, Associate Lawyer at Lowe and Company, says, “[There are] some relatively minor language changes to the document, but there aren’t any substantive changes that we see right now.”

As the United States government continues to crack down on immigration, there is concern that restrictions may extend to specialised knowledge visas. In 2018 a pilot by the U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS) in Blaine, Washington, began removing ‘on-the-spot’ visa approval for managers and executives seeking L-1 visas, which facilitate intra-company transfers to the U.S. Originally set to close on October 31, 2018, the program has been extended April 30, 2019. The USCIS has also released several memos with the aim of making L-1 visa renewal more difficult.

Immigration experts worry the pilot could be extended to other visa categories if deemed successful. It follows a November memo in which USCIS ruled research analysts couldn’t qualify as “economists” and thus be eligible for three-year TN visas. The U.S. is moving to tighten its borders more broadly, including cracking down on the H-1B, a temporary visa for high-skilled workers, and banning entry from several predominantly Muslim nations. [2]

As uncertainty with United States visas persists, Canadian firms may seize the opportunity to attract top Canadian talent living in the United States.

Canadian firms may also look to acquire top international talent through the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), an agreement intended to reduce tariffs in countries that amount to 13 percent of the global GDP and a market of half a billion people.

Why is the CPTPP important for Canadian businesses?

The CPTPP gives Canada preferential access to Asia-Pacific markets and opens the Canadian economy to an influx of foreign workers. The agreement, led by Canada and Japan and currently ratified by seven countries, is reciprocal and allows for the influx of regulated and non-regulated professions into Canada while also easing the transition for Canadian companies expanding abroad. This agreement will mean easier access to professional visas for the member countries. [3]

This would provide Canadians with new temporary entry commitments from several CPTPP partners for certain professionals and highly skilled technicians, intra-company transferees, investors, and business visitors, including improved access into priority markets identified by stakeholders, most notably in Australia and Chile. [4]

As professional visas for Canadians remain in question and protectionist measures increase in the United States, Canadian firms may look to recruit highly skilled internationals and increase their presence in Asia-Pacific via the CPTPP.

Opportunities for Canadian Firms

The uncertainty represented by changes to U.S. immigration policy represents an opportunity for Canadian employers, says Leo,

“[This is] an opportunity for employers in Canada to present the country as a good option for both Canadians and the foreign workers working in the U.S. concerned about their future, particularly for foreign nationals covered by other Canadian free trade agreements such as CPTPP.”

As professional visas for Canadians remain in question and protectionist measures increase in the United States, Canadian firms may look to recruit highly skilled internationals and increase their presence in Asia-Pacific via the CPTPP.

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Henry Goldbeck

Henry E. Goldbeck, President of Goldbeck Recruiting Inc, is a Certified Personnel Consultant (CPC) and founded Goldbeck Recruiting in 1997. Since then, Henry has built the company's reputation as a leading headhunter and recruitment agency in sales, marketing, operations, engineering, and executive level positions across a variety of industries.

President & CEO at Goldbeck Recruiting Inc.