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International Free Trade Agreements

Free trade agreements (FTA) simplify the temporary entry process for businesspeople on a mutual basis between participating countries. The International Mobility Program (IMP) allows Canadian employers to hire foreign workers temporarily without having to undergo a Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA).

Canada-International Free Trade Agreements (FTAs)

  • Canada–United States–Mexico Agreement (CUSMA) – formerly known as North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)
  • Canada-Chile FTA / Canada-Peru FTA / Canada-Colombia FTA / Canada-Korea FTA
  • Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA)
  • General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS)
  • Canada–Panama Free Trade Agreement
  • Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP)

Canada–United States–Mexico Agreement (CUSMA) – formerly known as North American Free Trade Agreement (FNAFTA)

CUSMA is an agreement between the U.S., Mexico, and Canada that simplifies business activities between these countries. It’s designed for citizens of these countries involved in trading goods, services, or investment activities. 

Who Qualifies? Only U.S., Mexico, and Canada citizens. Permanent residents don’t qualify.

LMIA Exemption: Workers and employers under CUSMA don’t need Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA).

Work Permit Application: You can apply for a work permit at a Canadian Port of Entry or through a visa office, either online or in paper format.

There are four categories of businesspeople covered by CUSMA 

    • Business Visitors
    • Professionals
    • Intra-company transferees
    • Traders, and Investors

Business Visitors

Visitors from the U.S. or Mexico must engage in activities outlined in CUSMA’s Appendix 1, Section B. These activities must be international in nature without intending to enter the Canadian labor market. Eligibility is demonstrated by showing that compensation and primary business activities are conducted outside Canada.

Types of Business Activities Covered: CUSMA covers a range of commercial activities, including research and design, growth, production, marketing, sales, distribution, after-sales service, and general service. These activities reflect different stages of business cycles.

Application Process for Business Visitors: Applications for entry as a business visitor should be made at a Port of Entry (POE) upon arrival in Canada. This process also applies to after-sales service providers, who require secondary examinations.

Documentation Requirements: Business visitors need to provide proof of citizenship and documentation supporting their business activity as per CUSMA. This includes evidence of international business scope and that they won’t enter the Canadian labor market.

After-Sales Service: Individuals involved in after-sales service must meet specific criteria, such as specialized knowledge and a connection to a sale or service contract. Their activities must involve installation, repair, servicing, or training related to commercial or industrial equipment or machinery.

Visitor Records and Extensions: Business visitors typically have short-term stays, but Visitor Records may be issued for regular visits related to a specific project. Extensions follow existing visitor documentation policies.

CUSMA’s Impact on Licensing and Certification: CUSMA doesn’t exempt business visitors from compliance with local requirements. The agreement facilitates entry but doesn’t override other regional or federal regulations.

Professionals

Professionals are defined as individuals who enter Canada to offer pre-arranged professional services. These services can be provided in several ways.

As a Salaried Employee: Working directly for a Canadian enterprise.

Through a Contract: Either between the professional and a Canadian employer or between the professional’s American or Mexican employer and a Canadian enterprise.

Scope of Services: CUSMA professionals are expected to provide services in their field of qualification. This ensures that individuals are employed in areas where they have proven expertise and can contribute effectively to the Canadian business landscape.

List of eligible professions under the CUSMA Professionals category: CUSMA’s Appendix 2 lists occupations that fall under this agreement. This list is a crucial resource for professionals to determine if their occupation is covered. It also determines if they are eligible to provide their services in Canada under CUSMA. 

 

Profession

Education/Credential Requirements 

General

Accountant

Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree or CPA, CA, CGA or CMA

Architect

Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree or state/provincial licence

Computer Systems Analyst

Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree or Post-Secondary Diploma or Post-Secondary Certificate, and three years’ experience

Disaster Relief Insurance Claims Adjuster

Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree, and successful completion of training in the appropriate areas of insurance adjustment pertaining to disaster relief claims or three years experience in claims adjustment and successful completion of training in the appropriate areas of insurance adjustment pertaining to disaster relief claims

Economist

Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree

Engineer

Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree; or state/provincial licence

Forester

Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree; or state/provincial licence

Graphic Designer

Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree; or state/provincial licence

Hotel Manager 

Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree in hotel/restaurant management or Post-Secondary Diploma or Post-Secondary Certificate in hotel/restaurant management, and three years experience in hotel/restaurant management

Industrial Designer

Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree or Post-Secondary Diploma or Post-Secondary Certificate, and three years experience

Interior Designer

Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree or Post-Secondary Diploma or Post-Secondary Certificate, and three years experience

Land Surveyor

Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree or state/provincial/ federal licence

Landscape Architect

Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree

Lawyer (including Notary in the Province of Quebec)

LLB, JD, LLL, BCL or Licenciatura Degree (five years) or membership in a state/provincial bar

Librarian

MLS or BLS (for which another Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree was a prerequisite). A librarian must have either:

  • A Master of Library Science degree; or
  • A Bachelor of Library Science and another baccalaureate degree which was necessary to enter the BLS program

Management Consultant

Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree or equivalent professional experience as established by statement or professional credential attesting to five years experience as a management consultant, or five years experience in a field of specialty related to the consulting agreement

Mathematician (including statistician and Actuary)

Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree

Range Manager/Range Conservationalist

Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree

Research assistant (working in a post-secondary educational institution)

Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree

Scientific Technician/ Technologist

Possession of (a) theoretical knowledge of any of the following disciplines: agricultural sciences, astronomy, biology, chemistry, engineering, forestry, geology, geophysics, meteorology, or physics; and (b) the ability to solve practical problems in any of those disciplines, or the ability to apply principles of any of those disciplines to basic or applied research.


A businessperson in this category must be seeking temporary entry to work in direct support of professionals in agricultural sciences, astronomy, biology, chemistry, engineering, forestry, geology, geophysics, meteorology or physics

Social Worker

Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree

Sylviculturist (including Forestry Specialist)

Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree

Technical Publications Writer

Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree or Post-Secondary Diploma or Post-Secondary Certificate, and three years experience

Urban Planner (including Geographer)

Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree

Vocational Counsellor

Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Deg

Medical/Allied Professional

Dentist

DDS, DMD, Doctor en Odontologia or Doctor en Cirugia Dental or state/provincial license

Dietitian

Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree or state/provincial license

Medical Laboratory Technologist (Canada)/ Medical Technologist (Mexico and the U.S.)

Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree or Post-Secondary Diploma or Post-Secondary Certificate, and three years experience

Nutritionist

Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree

Occupational Therapist

Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree or state/provincial license

Pharmacist

Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree or state/provincial license

Physician (teaching or research only)

M.D. or Doctor en Medicina or state/provincial license

Physiotherapist/Physical Therapist

Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree or state/provincial license

Psychologist

State/provincial license or Licenciatura Degree

Recreational Therapist

Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree

Registered Nurse

State/provincial license or Licenciatura Degree

Veterinarian

DVM, DMV or Doctor en Veterinaria or state/provincial license

Scientist

Agriculturist (including Agronomist)

Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree

Animal Breeder

Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree

Animal Scientist

Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree

Apiculturist

Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree

Astronomer

Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree

Biochemist

Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree

Biologist

 

(including Plant Pathologist)

Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree

Chemist

Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree

Dairy Scientist

Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree

Entomologist

Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree

Epidemiologist

Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree

Geneticist

Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree

Geologist

Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree

Geochemist

Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree

Geophysicist (including Oceanographer in Mexico and the U.S.)

Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree

Horticulturist

Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree

Meteorologist

Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree

Pharmacologist

Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree

Physicist (including Oceanographer in Canada)

Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree

Plant Breeder

Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree

Poultry Scientist

Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree

Soil Scientist

Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree

Zoologist

Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree

Teacher

College

Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree

Seminary

Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree

University

Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree

Intra-Investors Transferees

Employees from the U.S. or Mexico can transfer to work in Canada if they meet specific conditions. To transfer within a company to Canada, you must meet these conditions:

Citizenship: You must be a citizen of the U.S. or Mexico.

Job Role: You should be looking for a job in Canada as an executive, a manager, or in a role that requires specialized knowledge.

Company Relationship: You need to transfer to a company in Canada that’s connected to your current employer in the U.S. or Mexico. This means the companies are related as a parent, branch, subsidiary, or affiliate.

Work Experience: You must have worked continuously in a similar job outside Canada, full-time, for at least one year in the last three years.

Immigration Rules: You must follow the usual immigration rules for temporary entry into Canada.

Application Process for Intra-Company Transferees

Transferees can apply for a work permit at a Canadian port of entry or via a visa office. U.S. and Mexican citizens may also apply within Canada as visitors.

Required Documentation

Applicants must present proof of citizenship, current employment status, and a letter from their employer detailing their role, specialized knowledge (if applicable), and the Canadian position. There is also a need for proof of the relationship between the Canadian company and the foreign company.

Criteria for Specialized Knowledge

To qualify as having specialized knowledge, applicants must demonstrate a high degree of specialized knowledge and advanced expertise. A mandatory wage assessment is not required, but wages are considered a significant indicator of specialized knowledge.

Work Permit Issuance and Duration

Qualified transferees receive a work permit under R204, T24. The initial permit can last up to 3 years, with a 1-year limit for opening or working in new offices. Extensions are possible for up to 2 years. Executives or managers can stay for up to seven years, while specialized knowledge workers are limited to 5 years. After reaching these limits, a one-year break is required before reapplying.

Important Considerations

Transferees must occupy a position within the Canadian branch and maintain an employer-employee relationship with the Canadian company. Those not residing in Canada might be classified as business visitors, especially for short-term projects or client-site work. Long-term permits are generally not issued for service personnel living outside Canada and working intermittently at client sites.

Traders and Investors

For Traders: To qualify as a trader, you need to be a U.S. or Mexican citizen actively involved in substantial trade, primarily between your home country and Canada. This trade encompasses both goods and services. As a trader, your role should be supervisory, executive, or involve essential skills crucial to your trade activities. When applying for a work permit, it’s recommended to submit your application to a visa office. However, applications can also be made at a Port of Entry (POE) or from within Canada. The application process includes completing the specific Application for Trader/Investor Status [IMM 5321] alongside the standard work permit application.

Trader Requirements Under CUSMA

  • U.S. or Mexican citizenship of the applicant and the employing enterprise.
  • Engagement in substantial trade volume.
  • Role in a supervisory, executive capacity, or one involving essential skills.

For Investors: Investors must be U.S. or Mexican citizens who have made, or are actively making, a substantial investment in a Canadian enterprise. Your main objective should be to develop and direct the enterprise you’re investing in. If you’re an employee, your role should be at an executive or supervisory level or require essential skills. Like traders, the work permit application for investors is best submitted at a visa office and involves completing the application for Trader/Investor Status [IMM 5321] along with the standard work permit application.

Investor Requirements Under CUSMA

  • U.S. or Mexican citizenship of the applicant and the enterprise.
  • Substantial investments are being made or actively pursued in Canada.
  • The applicant’s intent is to develop and direct the enterprise.

Duration and Extension of Work Permits: Both traders and investors typically receive an initial work permit valid for 1-year. Extensions up to 2 years are possible, provided all requirements continue to be met.

Canada-Chile FTA / Canada-Peru FTA / Canada-Colombia FTA / Canada-Korea FTA

The basic North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) provisions remain the same in the Canada-Chile Free Trade Agreement (CCFTA). However, there are minor differences in two of the categories of businesspersons (e.g., Business Visitors and Professionals). The rules for Intra-company transferees and Traders/Investors are the same.

The Canada-Peru FTA was signed in 2008 and became effective August 1, 2009. Temporary Entry for Businesspersons is modeled on the NAFTA but have some differences. 

The Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement (FTA) was signed in November 2008 and became effective August 15, 2011. This agreement allows issuance of open work permits to spouses of Traders and Investors, Intra-company Transferees or Professionals and Technicians.

The basic North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) provisions remain the same in the Canada-Korea FTA. However, there are number of differences in two of the categories of businesspersons (e.g., Business Visitors and Professionals). The rules for traders and investors are the same as in the NAFTA. The Canada-Korea FTA also facilitate work permit issuance for the spouses or common-law partners of Investors or Traders, Intra-Company Transferees, and Professionals. 

Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic & Trade Agreement (CETA)

The Canada-EU Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) provisionally entered into force in September 2017 to create new commercial opportunities for Canadian and EU businesses in trade and investment. CETA facilitates entry for certain covered businesspersons who are citizens of Canada and EU member states by removing the requirement for Labour Market Impact Assessments (LMIAs). The agreement covers the three following categories of visitors for business purposes:

  • Key personnel including intra-corporate (company) transferees, investors, and business visitors for investment purposes.
  • Contractual service suppliers and independent professionals.
  • Short-term business visitors.

General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS)

Like NAFTA, the temporary entry of businesspersons under the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) can be facilitated without the need for a Labour Market Impact Assessment. Canada is a signatory of the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), which is administered by the World Trade Organization (WTO). GATS facilitates trade and movement of certain businesspersons among its member countries worldwide. Following groups of businesspeople are covered under GATS:

Business Visitors

The business visitor category does not require a work permit because the individual is not entering the Canadian labour market. Naturally, that person must meet all the specific requirements, showing that he/she will not enter the Canadian labour market, that their employer is outside of Canada and that they are being paid by the foreign employer.

Intra-Company Transferees

The intra-company transferee category is a work permit category.  The intra-company transferee must prove the relationship between the foreign and Canadian company and show why the foreign worker is more qualified than existing or potential Canadian workers for the position in Canada. GATS professionals must meet minimum educational requirements as well as certain licensing requirements. The professionals must also have a contract in place before arriving that shows they will be employed in their professional capacity and will be remunerated in this capacity with the fair market wage in the region of the employment.

Professionals

A GATS Professional is a person who seeks to engage, as part of a services contract obtained by a company in another member nation, in an activity at a professional level. The person must possess the necessary academic credentials and professional qualifications, which have been duly recognized, where appropriate, by the professional association in Canada. This category is designed to facilitate the short-term entry of a limited list of professionals employed by service providers of member nations, in those service sectors to which Canada has made commitments.

Occupation covered under General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS)

Occupation

Education/Credential Requirements

Other requirements

Engineer

Baccalaureate degree 

Provincial licence

Agrologists

Baccalaureate degree in agriculture or related science plus four years of related experience

Licensing required in New Brunswick, Alberta & Quebec. Temporary licensing required in British Columbia

Architects

Baccalaureate degree in forestry management or forestry engineering, or a provincial licence

Licensing as a forester or forestry engineer is required in Alberta, British Columbia & Quebec

Geomatics Professionals

Baccalaureate degree

Provincial licence

Foreign Legal Consultants

Baccalaureate degree in law

Provincial licence

Urban Planners

Baccalaureate degree in urban planning

Provincial licence

Senior Computer Specialists

Graduate degree (Master’s) in computer sciences or related discipline and ten years of experience in computer sciences.

 

Canada–Panama Free Trade Agreement

The Canada–Panama Free Trade Agreement (FTA) was signed in 2010 and came into force on April 1, 2013. Temporary entry for businesspersons is similar to the temporary entry provisions of NAFTA. However, only the provisions for business visitors and professionals are currently in force.

Comprehensive & Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP)

The Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) is a trade agreement between 11 countries (Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam). The CPTPP facilitates temporary entry of business visitors, investors, intra-corporate transferees & professionals, and technicians of participating countries. 

Business visitor applications can be made at a Canadian port of entry (POE), provided the applicant already has a valid visa or electronic travel authorization. Applicants who are applying as a business visitor, and who are required to obtain a visa, must do so at an Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) office abroad.

Depending on the citizenship of the principal applicant, work authorization for accompanying spouses is also facilitated, except for business visitors. For spouses, the length of stay, including extensions, should be the same as of the length of stay for the businessperson they are accompanying.