The fate of the NAFTA remains uncertain as the U.S., Canada and Mexico continue efforts to renegotiate the agreement, threatening the status of thousands of Canadians working over the border.
While Trump’s on-ground actions have not necessarily matched the intensity and viciousness of his campaign rhetoric, ending NAFTA will impact not just trade but also the free flow of skilled professionals from Canada into the U.S.
Thousands of Canadians are working in the US under Treaty NAFTA (TN) Visa. The agreement also impacts E Treaty Trader and Investors, L-1 Intra company transfers, and B-1 business visitors’ visa categories.
Impact of Withdrawal on the TN Visa
Chapter 16 of NAFTA, entitled ‘Temporary Entry for Business Persons’, focuses on business immigration and the creation of a temporary NAFTA work visa category to facilitate the movement of skilled workers. When NAFTA was signed in the early 1990s, the U.S. immigration law was amended to create the TN visa for Canadians and Mexicans.
The existence and continuation of this visa category is directly dependent on NAFTA’s existence. If the USA decides to withdraw from NAFTA, then TN Visa professionals living and working in the U.S. will lose their legal status upon the expiry of their visa. Of course, any withdrawal would mean no further TN Visas would be issued.
Termination could result in automatic reactivation of the US-Canada Free Trade Agreement (CFTA), which was replaced when NAFTA was signed. The CFTA included its own special ‘Treaty Canada’ visa for Canadians. However, the CFTA and the TC visa are unlikely to provide automatic legal status to TN Visa professionals.
Impact of Withdrawal on the E Treaty Trader/Investor
The E Treaty visa category allows investors belonging to countries that have signed treaties of commerce and navigation with the U.S. to reside and work in the country. NAFTA is the treaty on which the E Treaty category functions with respect to Canada and the U.S. Therefore, withdrawal from the agreement and termination of NAFTA would impact the status of Canadians holding the E Treaty visa for traders or investors.
However, the category may be automatically preserved if CFTA is reactivated or if the two nations finalize another trade agreement to replacement NAFTA.
As long as NAFTA continues or a replacement treaty is finalized post an American withdrawal, Canadians holding the E Treaty visa are unlikely to lose their status.
Impact of Withdrawal on Other Visa Categories
The B-1 business visa and the L-1 Intra-company transfer visa are unlikely to be severely impacted. However, certain benefits mandated under NAFTA may be withdrawn.