Do you have U.S. or Mexican employees who travel to Canada for business? If so, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) may help your company conduct business in Canada. While this international agreement does not change the universal requirements for entry into Canada by non-Canadians (i.e., the requirements for valid travel documents or medical/security clearance), it does relax other immigration requirements for U.S. and Mexican citizens travelling to Canada for business.

To Whom Does NAFTA Apply?

NAFTA applies to four main categories of individuals. The key categories for employers are usually (i) business visitors, (ii) professionals and (iii) intra-company transfers.

NAFTA Business Visitors

NAFTA business visitors are allowed to conduct certain types of business activities in Canada without a work permit. The general types of business activities that fall under this section include marketing/promotions, research and design, and sales and after-sales services. Among other permissible activities, NAFTA business visitors can travel to Canada to consult, negotiate, research, participate in business meetings and conventions, and solicit business.

To qualify as a NAFTA business visitor, your employees must be U.S. or Mexican citizens. NAFTA does not apply to permanent residents of the United States (e.g., green card holders) or to non-Americans who are currently employed on work permits in the United States.

In addition, the business activities necessitating the travel to Canada must be international in nature. The employee’s primary source of payment (in goods, services or money) and principal place of business must remain outside of Canada, and the employee must have no intention of entering the Canadian labour market.In order to be considered a NAFTA business visitor, the employee should apply for such status when he or she arrives in Canada at the port of entry. The employee will require supporting documents, including support letters from your organization and corporate identification such as business cards.

If your employee will travel to Canada on multiple trips over a short period of time, the employee may ask the immigration officer to issue a document called a visitor record that classifies him or her as a NAFTA business visitor. This document may allow for ease of entry on future trips, as the employee has already been adjudicated and granted entry as a business visitor. It reduces the probability of delays and secondary referrals into Immigration Canada from the primary inspection line. But it does not guarantee entry on future trips, and an immigration officer is under no obligation to issue this document.

NAFTA Professionals

Unlike NAFTA business visitors, NAFTA professionals must have work permits. To qualify as a NAFTA professional, your employee must be a U.S. or Mexican citizen who has secured employment with a Canadian employer and meets certain educational and professional standards. More than 60 professional occupations fall into this category, including computer system analysts and management consultants.

An individual who is employed by a U.S. company and enters into a service contract with a Canadian company can be a NAFTA professional. A NAFTA professional can also be an independent worker who has been hired by a Canadian company. In both cases, however, the employment must be pre-arranged and the employee must provide professional-level service in his or her field of qualifications as described in the occupational list.

If your employee seeks to be considered as a NAFTA professional, he or she should apply for such status either upon arrival in Canada at the port of entry or at the Canadian consulate in the United States or Mexico before travelling to Canada. Like NAFTA business visitors, NAFTA professionals will need to present supporting documents from their employers.

NAFTA Intra-Company Transfers

NAFTA intra-company transfers may transfer from their employers in the United States or Mexico to a legally related company (e.g., a subsidiary, sister/affiliate, parent or branch) in Canada, provided they meet a number of criteria. Like NAFTA professionals, NAFTA intra-company transfers also require work permits.

To qualify, your employee must be a U.S. or Mexican citizen. In the previous three-year period, the employee must have been employed by your organization for at least one year in an executive or managerial capacity, or in a specialized knowledge subcategory. Generally, middle managers do not qualify for the managerial subcategory.

If your employee qualifies as a NAFTA intra-company transfer, the employee may be employed in Canada and possess a work permit for up to seven years if he or she qualifies as an executive or managerial employee. The employee may, however, only be employed in Canada for up to five years as an employee with specialized knowledge. If the employee requires a work permit beyond the prescribed time period, the employer will have to explore other legal avenues to extend the work permit.