September 22, 2017
The future of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), including NAFTA’s immigration-related provisions allowing cross-border mobility between Canada, the U.S. and Mexico, is uncertain. But for now, it’s still in play. In its current form, NAFTA allows qualified U.S. and Mexican citizens in certain “designated professions” to temporarily enter Canada for work under the “NAFTA professional work permit” without requiring the employer to obtain the federal government’s permission in the form of a Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA). Avoiding the LMIA process is a significant benefit for employers, saving them time, effort – and money. The financial savings can be significant: the federal government charges employers a non-refundable fee (currently $1,000) for each position it seeks to fill with a foreign national for which an LMIA is required; this is in addition to any legal fees an employer might incur for advice in the preparation or review of its LMIA application.
Here are the answers to five questions that Canadian employers seeking to recruit professional foreign nationals from the U.S. and Mexico frequently ask about the NAFTA professional work permit path to Canada.
An applicant must satisfy all of these criteria to qualify for a NAFTA professional work permit:
An immigration medical isn’t required for most professions before applying for a NAFTA professional work permit – but it is required for those that work in a medical setting, such as dentists and physicians. The purpose of the medical at the work permit stage is to protect public health in Canada.
Generally, the professional work permit is intended for professionals with some level of advanced education. NAFTA (in Appendix 1603.D.1) currently lists 63 “designated professions”, including health-care professionals (such as physicians and dentists), scientists, teachers, engineers, accountants, lawyers and management consultants. NAFTA also sets out the minimum education requirements and alternative credentials for each designated professional category and, in some cases, the minimum number of years of required experience in their profession. For example:
Both U.S. and Mexican citizens can apply for work permits at a Canadian port of entry (POE): an airport or land crossing into Canada. In general, an individual applying for a work permit at a POE is expected to present all of these documents:
For a NAFTA professional work permit applicant, it’s also helpful to offer additional proof they are qualified to work in Canada in their profession. Thus it’s best if the applicant also brings copies of key correspondence with their Canadian regulatory body and of any conditional approval for a professional license they’ve received.
No: to be eligible for a NAFTA professional work permit, the applicant and must have pre-arranged employment in Canada – and can’t be self-employed. The policy, procedures and guidance used by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada staff for purposes of NAFTA’s International Mobility Program specifically prohibits NAFTA professional work permit immigrants from “hanging out a shingle” in Canada, and requires the Canadian employer to be “separate” from the work permit applicant. Non-Canadians seeking to enter Canada on the basis of self-employment must apply under another category.
Temporary entry lays the foundation for a permanent residence application: after working in Canada for one year, NAFTA professional work permit holders can apply for permanent residence status in Canada through the Federal Skilled Worker (FSW) Program or the Canadian Experience Class. Depending on the province in which the applicant seeks to reside, the applicable Provincial Nominee Program or the Atlantic Immigration Pilot Program, neither of which usually require one year of Canadian work experience to qualify, might also be a good option to pursue permanent residence status.
Please contact your McInnes Cooper lawyer or any member of the Immigration Law Team @ McInnes Cooper to discuss this topic or any other legal issue.
McInnes Cooper has prepared this document for information only; it is not intended to be legal advice. You should consult McInnes Cooper about your unique circumstances before acting on this information. McInnes Cooper excludes all liability for anything contained in this document and any use you make of it.
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