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Canada offers immigration programs that allow foreign-born nationals to come to Canada to work temporarily. One program in particular is aimed at helping Canadian employers hire and retain American and Mexican professionals.

The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is a treaty between Canada, Mexico, and the United States designed to encourage greater trade between the three countries. NAFTA also facilitates the temporary entry into Canada of selected categories of American and Mexican business persons and workers.

In most cases, before a foreign worker can be hired, the Canadian employer must obtain a Labour Market Opinion (LMO) from a government organization referred to as Service Canada. The LMO is a document that confirms that hiring a foreign worker for a particular job will have a positive or neutral impact on Canadian workers. Obtaining a positive LMO can take time, in some cases up to several months. Individuals who apply for a work permit through the NAFTA categories are exempt from the LMO process and in some cases they may even be exempt from having to obtain a work permit.

The NAFTA program is open to four different categories of foreign workers:

1. Business Visitors

To qualify as a Business Visitor, an American or Mexican citizen must enter Canada to perform duties related to the business cycle: research and design, growth, manufacture and production, marketing, sales, distribution, after-sales service and general service. The Business Visitor’s primary source of income and principal place of business must remain in the United States or Mexico, meaning that Business Visitors cannot directly enter the Canadian labour market.

Although all NAFTA categories are exempt from obtaining an LMO, Business Visitors are the only NAFTA applicants who are also exempt from having to obtain a work permit as they are not entering the Canadian labour market.

2. Professionals

Certain American and Mexican professionals may enter Canada to provide pre-arranged professional services. To qualify for this category, applicants must have a job offer from a Canadian employer in one of the 63 recognized occupations which includes accountants, engineers, management consultants, technicians, physicians, nurses, college teachers, and more. Applicants must meet the minimum education and/or experience requirements related to each profession.

Professionals may also enter Canada to provide training related to their profession as long as the training session is pre-arranged with a Canadian employer and the subject matter is at a professional level.

3. Intra-Company Transferees

Intra-company Transferees must have been employed full-time with an American or Mexican company for at least one year in an executive, senior managerial, or specialized knowledge position within the last three years and must be entering Canada to assume a similar position. The applicant must be working for an American or Mexican company that is directly related to the Canadian company as a parent, branch, subsidiary, or other affiliate relationship. Intra-company transferees can also seek entry to Canada to open a new office on behalf of the American or Mexican company.

This is the only NAFTA category that has a “cap” that limits the overall length of time that a foreign worker may hold a work permit under this category. The total period of stay for a person employed in an executive or managerial capacity is seven years. The total period of stay for a person employed in a position requiring specialized knowledge is five years. Applicants are eligible for a new work permit after one year has passed after the time cap.

4. Traders and Investors

In order to qualify as a Trader, an American or Mexican citizen must enter Canada to be involved in substantial trade in goods or services. To be considered substantial trade, more than 50 percent of the total volume of international trade conducted must be between Canada and the United States or Mexico. Traders must be employed in a supervisory or executive position or in one that involves essential skills that are vital to the effectiveness of the firm’s Canadian operations.

Investors must have made, or be in the process in making, a substantial investment in an enterprise in Canada and intend to enter Canada to develop and direct the enterprise. There is no minimum investment to qualify. Rather, the application is assessed based on the circumstances and nature of the business. The amount an applicant invests will be weighed against the total value of the current enterprise, or against the total amount needed to establish the new enterprise. As with Traders, Investors must also be in a supervisory or executive role by directing, controlling, and guiding employees.

A temporary work permit may be a stepping stone to Canadian Permanent Residency. Once in Canada on a temporary work permit, a foreign worker may qualify for Canadian Permanent Residency under the Canadian Experience Class, the Quebec Experience Class, the Federal Skilled Worker Program, or even through one of the Provincial Nominee Programs. Having obtained Canadian work experience, temporary foreign workers are great candidates for Canadian Permanent Residency as they have already settled into Canadian society and have established important networks in their communities and their careers.