Tech sector urges revisions to visa rules in NAFTA talks

Posted by on September 12, 2017

Brendan Wypich is a Canadian from Toronto that has been employed in California’s tech industry for a decade. His passage throughout the border has always been eased by the NAFTA-created TN program, which makes it possible for tens of thousands of professionals from Canada, and Mexico, to temporarily enter and operate in the USA every year.

TN status for Canadians — that takes a prearranged job using a U.S. employer but can be gotten at any border crossing and is valid for three years with an option to renew — has worked well for Mr. Wypich, whose job is to ensure programs have a human-friendly flow.

But he says a lot of those tech jobs in Silicon Valley or Los Angeles did not even exist when he moved into the United States, and they certainly are not on the list of professions permitted TN app entry under the 23-year-old NAFTA.

“That is the main reason you go down there, for something new and innovative,” Mr. Wypich, 40, says. “However, the careers [on the list] are historical.”

An upgrade to the list could emerge as a material issue in the ongoing NAFTA renegotiations. It’s been a longstanding irritant for businesses on both sides of the border who wish to move or hire workers and for the many Canadians who wish to be a part of the world’s biggest economy. People who want an upgrade argue the obsolete list causes unnecessary delays and confusion in the daily movement of professionals — particularly for people working in the tech industry — and hurts North American competitiveness.

“You get a static list of jobs that has been decided on in the early 1990s — when the Internet did not exist yet. And nobody had heard of Internet designers as a profession,” says Edward Alden, a senior fellow in the Washington office of the Council on Foreign Relations. “It’s a fairly obvious one that you will need to update the list of eligible professions{}”

However, any hopes for modernization of the TN program, even though backed by company, might be swept aside by American political belief that the U.S. immigration process is too overly permissive.

When an expansion of the TN program is brought up during NAFTA renegotiations, Mr. Alden says it is very likely to bump up against long-standing U.S. resistance to enlarging any labour-mobility provisions. “The Canadian government is walking into this toxic stew of immigration skepticism in the U.S. Congress.”

The TN program has remained beneath the radar and has not engendered anger like the bigger H-1B visa program, which was created to attract skilled foreign workers to the USA from around the globe. The Trump Administration has captured on U.S. anger over illegal immigration. However, the White House and Congress also have targeted legal immigration paths and have taken up the cause of mad American employees who were fired from their technology jobs to make way for Indian outsourcing company employees who’ve come to the nation on H-1B visas.

There’s some indication that the Canadian government is pushing for an overhaul. Last month, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland stated she would like to create the NAFTA-led movement of professionals, “increasingly essential to firms’ ability to innovate across combined supply chains,” simpler.

“NAFTA’s Chapter 16, which addresses temporary entry for businesspeople, should be reviewed and expanded to reflect the needs of our companies,” Ms. Freeland said.

The TN program, for any of its flaws, has been adopted by Canadians who wish to work south of the border. U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials say 150,000 Canadians entered the country with TN status this past year, up from roughly 105,000 in 2014.

Likewise, NAFTA also allows U.S. and Mexican professionals temporary work access to Canada, but the amounts are much smaller. In 2016, 17,602 Americans and 691 Mexicans were issued NAFTA-backed temporary work permits by Canadian authorities.

The jobs list for all 3 countries comprises over 60 job descriptions in health, finance and other professions, including architects, management consultants, occupational therapists, teachers and ps. Although NAFTA permits for the listing to be upgraded with a working group representing the three signatories, only two jobs — plant pathologists and actuaries — have been inserted, in 2004.

“For those Canadians who’ve TN visas in the past 23 years, it has been a terrific thing. For the remainder of the professional world, it does not do much,” says U.S. immigration attorney Greg Boos, who divides his time between Vancouver and his office in Bellingham, Wash..

“I see a good deal of people that are turned down, who do not match,” Mr. Boos says, adding that occurs especially in professions associated with the tech sector.

Mr. Boos says another complaint about the TN program is that the occasionally erratic nature of processing by U.S. authorities. U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials say they seldom turn off a Canadian seeking TN status. But in Mr. Boos’s experience, a Canadian traveling into america through Vancouver international airport is less likely to be grilled by U.S. officials compared to a person passing through Toronto Pearson, or a land crossing.

When NAFTA came into force in 1994, it was a “breakthrough” in international labor mobility, says Carlo Dade, manager of the trade and investment center in the Canada West Foundation. It gave Canadians who fit the skilled categories list almost unparalleled accessibility to jobs in america. And, unlike Mexicans, Canadians do not usually need a visa to enter the USA under the TN category.

But as the decades have passed, additional labour-mobility agreements — like the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) business travel card have improved beyond NAFTA when it comes to ease of business motion, Mr. Dade states.

In Washington, Mr. Alden says the only way to get U.S. buy on modernizing the TN jobs list is whether it can somehow be marketed as a small tweak to gain American competitiveness. But that approach is a long shot.

“I just don’t know how you pack this politically, in a manner that stands a snowball’s chance in hell in the Congress.”

Courtesy: The Globe And Mail

Posted in: Market News


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