USMCA Preserves NAFTA’s Immigration Provisions

USMCA Preserves NAFTA’s Immigration Provisions

The United States has agreed to a new trilateral trade deal with Mexico and Canada that will replace the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), according to a September 30, 2018, announcement. The immigration provisions contained in NAFTA have been repackaged as the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) but appear to largely remain the same.

The USMCA temporary employment provisions are outlined in Chapter 16, titled “Temporary Entry for Business Persons.” The provisions adopt the original NAFTA framework with minor updates that are unlikely to disrupt labor mobility across the three countries. The Chapter 16 visa program allows employers in the United States, Mexico and Canada to hire professional workers in over 60 occupational categories temporarily. The program covers accountants, doctors, engineers, software developers and nutritionists, among other professionals.

The USMCA allayed fears that the Trump Administration would reduce the number of professionals covered under Chapter 16 and cap work visa renewals in line with its adherence to its “Buy American, Hire American” April, 2017 Executive Order. While the United States wanted the list of covered professions to be scaled back, Canada sought for its expansion to include digital occupations and others not previously included in NAFTA since its 1994 inception. The countries ultimately settled for the status quo. Employers and workers who currently rely on NAFTA’s Chapter 16 are likely to be relieved at the decision to leave the rules unchanged.

The tentative agreement will not take effect immediately. The USMCA must be approved by the legislatures of all three countries and signed by their leaders. The process could take several months. Congress is expected to ratify the agreement after the November elections.