7 Keys To Getting A NAFTA Work Permit As a Professional


us mexico and canada imageDid you know that certain professionals can work in Canada under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)? They can do so without going through the normal requirement of obtaining a labour market opinion that most other temporary workers (and employers) must do.

In this post, I’ll discuss what I consider to be the seven keys to obtaining a work permit in the professional category under NAFTA.

1. You must be a citizen of the USA or Mexico

Only citizens of the USA and Mexico qualify as NAFTA applicants.  Individuals who are permanent residents of either country (e.g., green card holders in the USA) do not qualify under NAFTA.

Citizens of Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, American Samoa and the U.S. Virgin Islands are also excluded from NAFTA and can not obtain work permits through NAFTA.

However, citizens of the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico can apply through NAFTA.

2. Your profession or occupation must be listed in NAFTA

Not all professionals can qualify for a work permit under NAFTA.  There are 60 listed qualifying professions and occupations, and your training and experience must fall within one of them.

3. You must have a job or contract in Canada

As a professional, you can not obtain a work permit without first having a job offer in Canada, or a professional service contract with a Canadian firm.  You can be an employee of a US or Mexican firm who does business with a Canadian company.

4. You must apply for the correct length of work permit

NAFTA work permits are issued for a maximum of three years initially.  However, they are renewable for additional three periods if the applicant still qualifies.  In my experience, it is best to apply for the length of permit you need that reflects the employment or service contract you have, to a maximum of three years in the first application.

Applicants should use the “Application for a Work Permit Made Outside of Canada” IMM 1295 form.

5.  You should apply to the correct visa office

As a NAFTA professional, you have the choice to apply at a port of entry (i.e., the border or airport), or at a visa office (currently either New York for US citizens, or Mexico City for Mexican citizens).

In my experience – if you have the time – it is best to apply at a visa office if at all possible.  It is far better to arrive at the border with work permit in hand rather than apply there.

I know of situations where the border officer was reluctant to issue a work permit (perhaps because the documentation wasn’t quite right), and told the applicant to leave and apply through a visa office.

If your time is tight, then by all means apply at a port of entry.  But be absolutely certain your supporting documentation is absolutely impeccable.

6. You must have the correct supporting documentation

I won’t go into detail regarding all of the supporting documentation required, as it will vary depending on the facts of each case.

Generally speaking, you first need to prove citizenship with a passport and/or birth certificate. You must have solid evidence that you actually qualify as a professional.  This would include official transcripts from the institution where you did your training, including a copy of your degree or diploma.  Certificates of membership in a professional organization (if applicable) would also be necessary.

As well, you should have letters of reference or employment contracts from previous employers to show your experience in the field.

Finally, you’ll need a copy of your employment agreement with a Canadian firm (or service contract), with a contact phone number and address in Canada.  The agreement must provide details of your duties in Canada (and those duties must match your NAFTA professional category), salary, length of employment, and so forth.

7. You must be entering Canada on a temporary basis

I suppose I should say that you must be able to show that you are entering Canada on a temporary basis. Just stating this fact to the visa officer is not good enough.

Bring evidence of your connections to the US or Mexico.  Evidence of assets held (including real estate, investments, bank accounts and vehicles) are crucial.

Provide evidence of family connections in the US or Mexico if you have them.  Showing your history of employment in the US or Mexico is always a very good idea as well, or any commitments that you have to return to (such as service contracts, clients or other employment in your home country).

As with all my posts, this post can not be considered legal advice, as your situation is unique and many factors will influence whether you are successful in obtaining a NAFTA work permit.

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Thank you!

About the author

Gianpaolo Panusa Gianpaolo Panusa is a Canadian immigration lawyer, writer, and founder of the PanCanadian Immigration Law Group based in Vancouver, Canada. Google+ Profile