The number of business travellers to Canada and the United States has increased dramatically since the creation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1995. United States citizens are subject to a number of immigration laws when they travel to Canada, as are Canadians travelling to the United States. Having a general understanding of immigration law and the respective immigration systems in Canada and the United States is important for any company that sends its employees to either country for business-related purposes.

Canadian Immigration Law

Unless a business traveller to Canada is a Canadian citizen or a Canadian permanent resident, he or she is subject to Canadian immigration laws that apply to temporary foreign workers. According to these laws, every person who participates in employment in Canada requires a work permit. The definition of work is very broad, and most business travellers to Canada fall into this category. Exceptions include NAFTA Business Visitors and NAFTA After Sales Service Personnel. To take advantage of these exceptions, a person has to prove to Canada Immigration that he or she qualifies for the category.

Where to Apply

If a work permit is necessary for a person to participate in business activities in Canada, a US citizen can usually apply for a work permit when he or she arrives in Canada. In certain circumstances, however, the worker must apply for a work permit before travelling to Canada.

Understanding the Canadian Immigration System

Unlike the US immigration system, when a person arrives in Canada for any purpose, the first government official he or she will speak to is a Canada Customs officer. This officer is referred to as a Primary Line Inspection Officer (PIL), and his or her job is to decide which travellers must go to the customs and immigration secondary areas. The immigration secondary area is used to question travellers about the purpose of their trip to decide if they have met all the legal requirements to enter Canada.

The more specific a traveller can be in his or her answers to the PIL officer, the greater the chance that a proper decision will be made. If a PIL officer asks what the purpose of the trip is, instead of answering "business," the traveller should give a more specific answer such as "an internal business meeting with our Canadian subsidiary."

Requirements for US Entry

The United States also distinguishes between Business Visitors, who do not require work permits, and those travellers who do. The informal definition of work, "anything for which someone normally gets paid," assists immigration officers in determining which travellers require a work permit.

Canadian citizens entering the United States as Business Visitors generally require no more than evidence of citizenship and identity. Those who require NAFTA work permits file for and receive them upon application for admission to the United States at the border. Certain other work permit approvals must be obtained in advance. A final category requires prior approval, and a visa in a Canadian passport, for entry.

The best way to ensure smooth entries is to determine whether a work permit is required, and to obtain all proper documents in advance of appearing at a port of entry or pre-clearance operation.