If you’ve read the news at all in the past few weeks you’ve probably read that the US, Canada and Mexico are engaging in negotiations over NAFTA.
We’re going to give a little overview here and talk about how it might impact TN visas (which are employer-based non-immigrant visas for Canadians and Mexican Nationals).
NAFTA stands for the North American Free Trade Agreement.
It was signed January 1, 1994 (but had been started with Ronald Reagan) and had a goal of making it easier for all three countries to move goods across each other’s borders by eliminating tariffs on them. A tariff is a tax on something. Removing tariffs also increases investment opportunities for all the countries involved.
Why does NAFTA have to be re-negotiated?
Since it was originally put into place the digital world has grown and must be included in any changes. However, the biggest reason is that President Trump thinks that it is the worst treaty ever entered into because it has taken US jobs away from the US.
There was hope that all sides would come to an agreement before August 25, 2018. The reasons for this is that the President of the US must have the agreement in front of Congress at least 90 days before it is signed. Since the current Mexican president is scheduled to leave office on December 1, 2018 there was hope he would be able to sign it before that date. Trump and Mexico reached an agreement on August 27, 2018. Canada has been more reluctant to do so. Without Canada signing off on any changes, nothing will change. The US can pull out of the agreement but only with Congressional approval.
Why can’t they reach an agreement:
The issues that were causing a delay in agreement included:
- Auto rules of origin. To avoid tariffs a certain percentage of a car’s parts must be built in factories within the NAFTA region. There was disagreement about what this percentage should be.
- Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said the biggest issue for his country was the “sunset provision” Trump was demanding. This provision was written so that NAFTA would expire in five years unless it is re-negotiated before that time. Trudeau said that this provision leads to too much uncertainty and will harm long-term investments.
- Instead of the sunset provision, Canada suggested a periodic review of various provisions but the US would not agree.
Even if an agreement is reached, the US Congress won’t vote on accepting those changes until 2019. With the increasing political dissonance in the US it is likely there may be more Democrats in office at that time who may be less likely to sign off on any new agreement.
Why is dissolving NAFTA a bad choice?
In 2017 the U.S. Chamber of Commerce published a report on NAFTA which showed that trade with Canada and Mexico supports almost 14 million jobs in the U.S., with nearly 5 million of these jobs related to the increase in trade created by NAFTA.
NAFTA gives all three countries strength when negotiating and competing with Europe and China.
It would put more financial strain on many US companies and farms with increased tariffs.
Right now, trade secrets and intellectual property are protected by NAFTA. We don’t have a similar agreement with China and companies are regularly losing both (with no legal recourse to get damages) when they want to do business there.
Dissolving NAFTA will also eliminate TN visas.
What is a TN Visa?
A TN Visa is a visa issued for Canadian and Mexican citizens to live and work in the United States. It is time-limited (3 years) and is not considered a path to citizenship.
NAFTA states what evidence is required to prove whether a Canadian or Mexican citizen is a professional in a qualifying profession.
How many TN Visas are issued yearly?
In fiscal year 2016, almost 15,000 TN visas were issued.
Is vetting done for TN Visa holders?
Yes, it is. Some people (U.S. Representative Dave Brat of Virginia (R-VA-07)) have said that TN Visa holders had no vetting done but that is simply not true. They must pass a background check and be scrutinized by border agents for Canadians and Consular Officers and border agents for Mexicans. Plus, The Department of Homeland Security and The Department of State determine who can enter under TN visas.
How do TN Visa holders help the United States?
TN visa holders support U.S. industry shortages in areas such as healthcare and agriculture.
The types of professionals eligible to seek admission as TN nonimmigrants are accountants, engineers, lawyers, pharmacists, scientists, and teachers. You may be eligible for TN nonimmigrant status, if:
- You are a citizen of Canada or Mexico;
- Your profession qualifies;
- The position requires a NAFTA professional;
- You have a prearranged full-time or part-time job with a U.S. employer (not self-employment); and
- You have the qualifications to practice in that profession.
How long can TN visa holders stay in the United States?
The initial amount of time you can stay is three years. During that time your employer can file an I-129 to extend your stay or you must leave the country and re-apply with the same documents used in your initial application for re-entry.
Your spouse and children under age 21 are also granted visas during the same time.
Is there anything else in immigration that might be impacted by changes in NAFTA?
The TN visa is not the only one created within NAFTA. The E-1 and E-2 treaty trader/investor visa categories for Canadians and Mexicans are part of the NAFTA, too. These visas are for individuals who invest in businesses in the U.S. thereby creating jobs for U.S. workers.
According to the Department of Commerce, Canadian foreign direct investment supported 636,100 jobs in the U.S. in 2015 and Mexico’s foreign direct investment for the same period supported 79,900 jobs in the U.S.