Workers across more than 60 occupations can continue to live and work in Canada under the updated free trade agreement between Canada, the United States, and Mexico.

The new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement or USMCA officially came into effect on July 1, 2020. This means the USMCA has officially replaced the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) which was introduced nearly 30 years earlier.

On immigration, the new agreement, variously called the United States–Mexico–Canada Agreement (USMCA), or, more informally, NAFTA 2.0, remains more or less unchanged from the original and now quarter century-old NAFTA. This is despite significant changes in other areas, such as environmental protection and labour standards.

Under the USMCA, the chapter covering temporary entry for professionals and business persons, Chapter 16, remains largely intact. This may surprise those who expected the number of professions it covered to be reduced, or a cap on renewals to be brought in. Currently, there is no limit on the number of times eligible professionals and business persons may renew their status in Canada. In addition, the same rules that apply to American and Mexican professionals and business persons coming to Canada also apply to eligible Canadians heading to the US and Mexico.

Find out full details on the various work permit options available through the USMCA in our guide to USMCA work permits.

Many commentators expected United States President Donald Trump to double down on the “Buy American, Hire American” policy that has been a cornerstone of his presidency to date. When it came to the final agreement, however, no such restrictions were in the new agreement.

That’s not to say that Trump was the only actor who did not get everything their own way. For example, the Canadian delegation and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce were among stakeholders who wanted the list of professions covered under Chapter 16 expanded to include more tech and IT occupations that didn’t even exist when the original NAFTA was introduced in 1994.

So after a lengthy negotiating period, Chapter 16 of the new agreement retains the status quo. Eligible workers will still be able to take up employment in Canada without their employer needing to obtain a Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA), which is typically needed in order for a Canadian employer to hire a foreign worker.

Under the United States—Mexico—Canada Agreement, better known as the USMCA, certain types of workers from the United States and Mexico may work in Canada without a Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA). The USMCA Professionals category allows workers across a broad range of occupations to work in Canada.

The USMCA replaced the former North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), although the section on immigration remained essentially unchanged.

Chapter 16 of the USMCA, entitled ‘Temporary Entry for Business Persons,’ provides the mechanisms to allow selected categories of temporary workers access to each other’s markets. The reciprocal trade agreement continues to allow eligible workers to work in Canada on a temporary basis.

USMCA work permits are issued by the government of Canada under the International Mobility Program (IMP). Because U.S. and Mexican citizens do not require a Temporary Resident Visa to enter Canada, USMCA work permit applications may be done at a Port of Entry, at a Visa Office, or online.

There are certain categories for different types of worker.

USMCA Professionals

The USMCA Professionals category is a popular category for eligible U.S. and Mexican citizens with requisite education and experience to work in Canada. The eligible occupations list includes a broad range of professions.

USMCA professionals wishing to work in Canada should note the following requirements:

  • Must be a citizen of the U.S. or Mexico.
  • Must be in a profession identified in the list above.
  • Must have a qualification to work in that profession (degree or certification in a related educational program).
  • Must have pre-arranged employment with an employer in Canada.

Must have provision of professional level services in the field of qualification.



USMCA Investors

Eligible USMCA investors must demonstrate that they have made a substantial investment in a new or existing Canadian business and that they will develop and direct the Canadian business. Investors must also demonstrate that they have a controlling stake in the company. Several factors are taken into consideration when determining whether an investor is eligible, such as their title, their place within the company’s hierarchy, their job duties, and more. USMCA investors generally don’t take part in the company’s hands-on activities.

In order to be considered eligible, the following requirements must be met:

  • The investor must have either U.S. or Mexican citizenship.
  • The company must have U.S. or Mexican citizenship nationality (a majority of the company must be owned by persons of U.S. or Mexican citizenship).
  • Substantial investment must have already been made, or is actively being made, in Canada. In order for the investment to be considered “substantial”, it must be weighed against the total value of the business, or the amount normally required in establishing a venture of that nature.
  • The investor is seeking entry into Canada for the sole reason for developing and directing the business.
  • If the investor is also an employee of the company, his or her role must be executive or supervisory, or involve essential skills.

Work permits in the USMCA investor category may also be granted to persons considered essential staff of the investor.



USMCA Traders

A USMCA trader is may be someone who has the intention and ability to engage in ‘substantial trade’of goods or services. Substantial trade in this instance means that more than 50 percent of the company’s international trade is done between Canada and the U.S. or Mexico. This can either be determined through the value of the transactions, or the volume being traded. Numerous transactions, although each may be small in value, might establish the requisite continuing course of international trade.

In order to be considered eligible, the following requirements must be met:

  • The applicant has U.S. or Mexican citizenship.
  • The employing enterprise has majority U.S. or Mexican nationality.
  • The activities involve substantial trade in goods or services.
  • The trade is principally between either the U.S. or Mexico, and Canada.
  • The position is supervisory or executive, or involves essential skills.

The government of Canada recommends that traders apply for a work permit through a visa office ‘due to the complexity of the application and for reasons of client service, program consistency and reciprocity.’



USMCA Intra-Company Transfers

Eligible persons from countries around the world may be able to obtain a work permit under Canada’s Intra-Company Transfer program.

Work permits issued under the USMCA Intra-Company Transfer category may be issued for an initial entry of up to three years. Individuals authorized to enter Canada as a USMCA intra-company transferee to open an office or to be employed in a new office are typically issued an initial work permit for a maximum period of one year.

Much like the regular Intra-Company Transfer program (to which any eligible person from any country may apply), the USMCA Intra-Company Transfer category is segmented into three categories of worker:

  • Executives primarily direct the management of the enterprise, or a major component thereof, and receives only general (if any) supervision from higher level executives.
  • Senior managers manage all or part of the enterprise and supervise or control the work of other managers or professional employees.
  • Workers with ‘specialized knowledge’ can demonstrate specialized knowledge of the enterprise’s product or service, or an advanced level of expertise in the enterprise’s processes and procedures.



Transition to Permanent Residence

USMCA workers in Canada are often in a strong position to become permanent residents of Canada, should they wish to do so. Permanent residents can reside and work in any location in Canada.

USMCA workers looking to transition to permanent residence have an advantage in Canada’s Express Entry immigration system which allows these workers to obtain Comprehensive Ranking System (CRS) points for a job offer without first being issued a LMIA. This important factor makes it easier for these workers to increase their CRS score, leading to an improved chance of being invited to apply for permanent residence.

There may also be options to transition to permanent residence outside the Express Entry system, such as through one of the Provincial Nominee Programs (PNPs).

Ultimately, some people who begin working in Canada under USMCA may become naturalized Canadian citizens. This step comes after the granting of permanent residence.

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