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CUSMA: Doing business with Mexico and the USA

Region: Ontario Answer # 665

It is illegal for someone who is not a Canadian citizen or a permanent resident to work in Canada without a work permit or without special permission under the Canada-United States-Mexico Agreement (CUSMA).

CUSMA allows American or Mexican citizens to enter Canada on a temporary basis to trade goods, provide services, or participate in investment activities, without needing a Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA). CUSMA replaced the original North American Free Trade Act (NAFTA), which was created to make it faster and easier for many business people to gain temporary entry to Canada for business purposes.

To qualify for temporary entry under CUSMA, applicants:

  • must be a citizen of either Mexico, Canada, or the United States;
  • must show proof of their citizenship; and
  • must qualify as a business person

Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) exempt: A Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) is a document that employers in Canada must sometimes get from Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) before hiring a foreign worker. A positive LMIA – sometimes called a Confirmation Letter– will show that there is a need for a foreign worker to fill the job. All business people covered by CUSMA are exempt from the need for an LMIA. This means Canadian employers do not need to have a job offer approved by ESDC to employ an American or Mexican business person.

Who qualifies as a ‘business person’?

Applicants must qualify in one of the following four categories of business people:

  1. Business visitors,
  2. Professionals,
  3. Intra-company transferees, and
  4. Traders or investors.

1. Business visitors

Business visitors are people who plan to engage in business activities. They have no intention to enter the Canadian labour market, and their primary source of income and place of business remain outside of Canada. Business visitors will be asked to provide evidence that they will engage in international business activity. Business visitors do not need a work permit.

As set out in CUSMA, a business visitor is a Canadian traveling to the U.S. for one of the following activities:

  • Research and Design
  • Growth, Manufacture and Production
  • Marketing
  • Sales
  • Distribution
  • General Service
  • After Sales Services

2. Professionals

Professionals are people who plan to engage in a business activity related to providing services or performing training functions at a professional level in a designated profession. Specifically, professionals:

  • must have professional work experience in one of the CUSMA Professionals List of Occupations
  • must have an offer of employment to practice their profession with an employer in Canada
  • must demonstrate the necessary qualifications to work in their profession, found on the CUSMA Professionals List of Occupations
  • must have a work permit

Because professionals must have pre-arranged employment with a Canadian organization, they cannot enter the country to work as a temporary professional if they are self-employed. There is no limit on how long a professional may remain in Canada, if they have a valid work permit, and their employment is still temporary.

3. Intra-company transferees

Intra-company transferees are people employed full-time by an American or Mexican organization, in a managerial, executive, or specialized services position for at least one year and who are being transferred to Canada, to provide managerial, executive, or specialized services to the same or relayed organization in Canada. In general, intra-company transferees may not stay in Canada for more than seven years as a manager or executive, or for more than five years as a specialized employee. Applicants under this category also require a work permit.

Business visitors, professionals, and intra-company transferees who are American citizens can apply to enter Canada at a Canadian border or airport, if they do not have a criminal record, medical condition or prior violation of Canadian immigration law that would bar their entry into Canada.

4. Traders and investors

Traders and investors must work for a company with either American or Mexican nationality, that does business principally between Canada and either the U.S. or Mexico. The trade or investment must be substantial. The employee must be in a role that is supervisory or executive or involve essential skills, while investors must be seeking entry solely to develop and direct the enterprise. They also require a work permit.

American or Mexican nationality means that the individual or corporate persons who own at least 50 percent interest in the entity (directly or by stock), must hold American or Mexican citizenship. Essential skills or services are special qualifications that are vital to the effectiveness of the firm’s Canadian operations.

Special rules apply to traders and investors. Due to the complexity of the application and the need for consistency between countries, an application for a work permit for entry as a trader should be submitted at a visa office. Once the entry requirements are met, there is no time limit on how long traders and investors can remain in Canada.

Other requirements

Business people who are covered under CUSMA must still meet the general immigration requirements that govern entry to Canada. People with certain medical conditions or a criminal record may not be allowed to enter Canada. Visit canada.ca to find out who is admissible.

If you need to extend your stay in Canada, you can apply for an extension of your work permit at any time before your work permit expires.

What about family members?

CUSMA does not extend special privileges to spouses and members of the family. If your spouse and children satisfy the general entry requirements, they may accompany you, but they cannot work or study in Canada without the appropriate work or study permit.

View the Government of Canada’s website on CUSMA for more information on temporary entry into Canada for business people.

Electronic Travel Authorization (eTA)

Most visa-exempt foreign nationals (persons who are not Canadian citizens or permanent residents or are stateless persons) require an Electronic Travel Authorization (eTA) for travelling to Canada, but only when travelling by air. Specifically, visa-exempt foreign nationals must obtain an eTA to travel to or transit through a Canadian airport, but they are not required to have an eTA when arriving by car, bus, train, or boat (including cruise ships).

An eTA is electronically linked to a traveller’s passport and is valid for up to five years or until the passport expires, whichever comes first.

United States applicants: As of April 26, 2022, U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents of the United States are exempt from the eTA requirement. They must carry proper identification, such as a valid U.S. passport or official proof of status, and a valid passport from their country of nationality (or an equivalent travel document).

Applicants from a visa-exempt country who receive a study or work permit on or after August 1, 2015, will automatically be issued an eTA along with their permit, while those who received their permit before that date will have to apply for an eTA.

View 659 Who can work temporarily in Canada for more information on work permits, LMIAs, eTAs, and other temporary foreign worker programs.

Canadians doing business abroad under CUSMA

CUSMA has also made it easier for Canadian business people to gain temporary entry to the United States or Mexico for business purposes. Canadian citizens who want to trade goods, provide services, or participate in investment activities may enter the United States or Mexico under special CUSMA immigration rules. Canadians doing business abroad must qualify in one of the same four categories as people who are entering Canada from the U.S. or Mexico to do business here. They must also satisfy the same general health and security requirements.

In general, Canadian citizens who apply for admission to the United States as a business person do not need a visa. Business visitors, professionals, and intra-company transferees can apply to enter the United States or Mexico at a port of entry, if they do not have a criminal record, medical condition or prior violation of U.S. immigration law that would bar their entry into the United States. Refer to the USA Travel and Immigration section of Legal Line for more information on working and visiting the United States.

Individuals who are not covered under CUSMA are still eligible to work temporarily in the member countries if they qualify under the general provisions governing the temporary entry of foreign workers.

Get help

A criminal record will delay, and can even prevent you from getting your immigration status. To erase your criminal record, call toll-free 1-888-808-3628 or learn more at Pardon Partners. It’s easier than you think.

For legal advice and assistance, contact our preferred Immigration experts, Bright Immigration Consultants .


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