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Canada/us Border Talks – Sweeping Changes to Canada/us Border Regulations Expected

September 02, 2011

The on-going border reformation talks between Canadian Prime Minister Steven Harper and US President Barack Obama have garnered widespread attention in the Canadian media recently. Coverage of the border talks coinciding with media coverage surrounding the upcoming ten-year anniversary of the terror attacks on the United States (“9/11”), has once again thrust the subject of border reform back into the public consciousness.

A Brief History of the Canadian/US border

In 1988, Canada and the US reached a joint agreement between the two countries known as the Free Trade Agreement (the “FTA”). The FTA was created with the main purpose of eliminating barriers to trade and services between Canada and the United States while also laying a foundation for further bilateral cooperation with respect to the enhancement and expansion of the FTA. The latter point figured prominently six years later in 1994 when Mexico was included, thus forming a trilateral trading bloc between the three countries known as the North American Free Trade Agreement (the “NAFTA”).

The NAFTA has remained in force ever since its inception in 1994 and, at present, is the largest trading bloc in the world. With the many economic advantages associated with the NAFTA it is a small wonder that the NAFTA marketplace is home to many of the world’s largest companies. However, over the last decade, many questions have been raised regarding the effectiveness of the NAFTA and whether trade, economic growth, job creation and easier mobility between nationals of Canada and the US are, in fact, at the levels they were forecast.

ADDENDUM: In 2009, Canada re-introduced a temporary resident visa requirement for nationals of Mexico. The effects this requirement has had on the NAFTA from an economic and socio-cultural perspective, while significant, have no bearing on the current talks between Canada and the US and, as such, will not be addressed.

What Happened?

The historic events of 9/11 prefaced much of what necessitated the current border reform talks between Canada and the United States. Much criticism was levied at the Canadian side and a deluge of tough questions were asked about how the Canadian/US border was being monitored and by whom. After the attacks, the United States implemented comprehensive changes to its border regulations as well as reforms to parts of its immigration system. As a result, the days of simply showing up at the Canadian/US border with a single piece of identification and a smile were effectively over. The changes also had a profound effect on ease of trade and travel between the two countries, amongst numerous other cross-border related issues.

Another economically devastating event, the stock market crash of 2008, also contributed to the further suffocation of trade and mobility between Canada and the US and resulted in both countries taking measures to protect its own labour market. The so-called trade-wars between Canada and the US led to the resurgence of the ‘buy American’ movement while also making life much more difficult for foreign workers seeking to enter Canada or the United States for work.

What now?

With the events of 9/11 almost a decade behind us and the slow and agonizing recovery from the collapse of the stock market, Canada and the United States are in talks to address the ‘choke hold’ that has strangled the Canadian/US border and drastically reduced the economic potential of the NAFTA. While both Governments have been reluctant to release detailed information regarding the on-going border talks, some of the proposals which have been reported thus far include:

  • The sharing of intelligence between Canadian and US border agencies;
  • The creation of a new council to review and amend outdated regulations that hinder trade and stifle job growth;
  • The creation of pre-clearance programs which will include the shipping of goods across the Canada/US border and also the passage of individuals for specific immigration related purposes (i.e. foreign workers); and,
  • The introduction of a joint entry-exit visa system whereby Canada’s entry data system would serve as the United States’ exit data system and vice-versa.

ADDENDUM: The above-referenced list merely touches on some of the notable points being reported from the on-going talks and is not a complete recounting of the issues currently being discussed. The portion of the list presented-above is relevant from an immigration perspective, which is the purpose of this blog.

Going Forward

The proposed reforms regarding the Canada/US border, while not as yet agreed upon nor finalized, should be of key interest to businesses and individuals currently active in the NAFTA marketplace. It would be safe to assume that significant changes to border regulations and the procedures regarding foreign nationals entering either country to visit, work, study or live, will change.

For instance, the creation of pre-clearance visa programs would undoubtedly have an effect on the way many current Canadian immigration applications are handled, processed and effected. As an example, a business visitor entering Canada who receives pre-clearance from Canada Immigration to engage in business visitor activities for the duration of a specific project would, as proposed, no longer have to re-apply at the border each time he or she leaves Canada and subsequently returns. In this example, the definition and eligibility of the business visitor may not change; however, the procedure and long-term benefits associated with the foreign worker's status in Canada certainly would.

We will be monitoring the on-going trade talks with the hopes of providing the latest information available as well as providing some insight into how changes to Canadian/US border regulations may impact immigration policy, procedure and business in the NAFTA marketplace.

Tags: Canadian Business Immigration


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