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Updated U.S.-Canada-Mexico trade agreement maintains NAFTA’s labour mobility rules

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The rules for professional work visas will remain unchanged under Canada’s new free trade deal with the United States and Mexico.

The three countries approved updates to the agreement’s original text on Tuesday, December 10, paving the way for its ratification.

Under the new agreement, the chapter that deals with temporary entry for business persons and professionals, Chapter 16, remains essentially unchanged from the original North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA.

Chapter 16 allows employers in Canada, the United States and Mexico to access professional labour from all three countries.

In Canada’s case, Chapter 16 lets Canadian businesses hire skilled American and Mexican workers in more than 60 professional categories on temporary work permits that are valid for up to three years and can be renewed an unlimited number of times.

Among other benefits, employers hiring professionals through Chapter 16 are not required to complete a Labour Market Impact Assessment, or LMIA, which is normally needed to prove no Canadian is available to fill the position.

The same rules apply to Canadian professionals covered by Chapter 16 who are hired by employers in the United States and Mexico.

The fact Chapter 16 came out of the negotiations unchanged surprised many who believed U.S. President Donald Trump would want to scale back the number of professions it covered and put a cap on renewals.

Trump’s “Buy American, Hire American” policy has been a central focus of his administration and numerous conservative voices had called for Chapter 16 to be reconsidered because of its perceived threat to American jobs.

Others, meanwhile, including Canadian negotiators and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, wanted the list of professions covered under Chapter 16 expanded to include digital occupations that didn’t exist when NAFTA was introduced in 1994.

In the end, negotiators settled for the status quo.

Originally signed in October 2018, passage of the new agreement was delayed by the Democrat-led House of Representatives, which sought better labour and environmental protections and other improvements to the original deal.

Addressing reporters on Tuesday, U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called the agreement a “victory for the American worker” and described it as “infinitely better” than the original draft.

In a series of tweets, Canada’s Deputy Prime Minister, Chrystia Freeland, said the agreement will be “profoundly beneficial” for Canada’s economy and  “excellent” for Canadian workers.

“This is what we set out to accomplish at the outset – a win-win-win agreement,” she added. “And it is something of which we, and our partners, can be very proud.”

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