Updates on US-Mexico-Canada trade agreement and family reunification rules for protected persons

Updated: Dec 12, 2019 | Tags: Canada Immigration, Canada Visa, IRCC

What does the new US-Mexico-Canada trade agreement mean for Canadian immigration?

A year of political deadlock finally ended on Tuesday, December 10 when lawmakers in the US House of Representatives agreed to ratify the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA, although officially Canada calls it the Canada-US-Mexico Agreement or CUSMA). The decision came after some amendments to the deal to strengthen both workers' rights and environmental protections.

The new trade agreement replaces NAFTA, the previous trilateral agreement between the North American neighbours. For Canadian employers and people wishing to work in Canada, NAFTA greatly simplified the processes of hiring and migration. Under this agreement, workers in a wide range of different fields could receive three-year temporary work permits that would entitle them to work in Canada; these permits could be renewed an unlimited number of times, making this an attractive option for those entitled to it. The system was also simpler for employers. Normally, an employer who wants to hire a skilled worker from outside Canada needs to demonstrate that there aren't Canadians available to do it; this requires completing a labour market impact assessment (LMIA). Under NAFTA, LMIAs weren't necessary for employers looking to hire skilled workers from Mexico or the United States.

Then-candidate Donald Trump's scathing criticisms of NAFTA during the 2016 American presidential campaign fuelled speculation that a new trade agreement might change the way in which NAFTA affected Canadian visas and labour markets; many believed that Trump might attempt to restrict the number of fields in which American employers could hire Mexican or Canadian workers. When the agreement was signed by the leaders of the three countries in 2018, some fears calmed; the new agreement's provisions on labour movement were essentially the same as the previous one's. However, the process wasn't over yet; the agreement still had to be ratified in each country, and the Democratic victory in the 2018 US elections meant that Trump's new trade deal might have a rocky path ahead of it.

Now that the new deal is heading for ratification, these concerns have been allayed. It appears that Chapter 16, the section of the deal relevant to immigration, will stay essentially unchanged. Canadian employers will still be able to hire skilled workers from Mexico and the US without having to complete LMIAs, and three-year work permits will remain available to these foreign employees.

Canada revises family reunification rules for protected persons

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) has announced changes in the way that people coming to Canada as protected persons will apply for family reunification. The new system is intended to counteract some of the difficulties arising from the unique character of the protected person class.

Protected persons are immigrants to Canada whom IRCC believes may be in danger of persecution in their country of origin. Because of this danger, reuniting protected persons with dependent family members who live outside Canada can be especially challenging. The family members may be living in situations that make them difficult for immigration officers to contact, meaning that the permanent residence application process can take much longer.

In order to help these families, IRCC is introducing two changes to the permanent residency system. First, protected persons will now be able to apply for permanent residency both for themselves and for their family members simultaneously. These applications can only be submitted at IRCC's Mississauga case processing centre. Additionally, IRCC is introducing a new one-year pilot scheme that will not only receive but process the applications simultaneously.

The effect of these changes should be to centralise the process of applying for permanent residence, effectively allowing the protected person making the application to communicate with IRCC on behalf of their family members. This should allow the application process to proceed even in situations where the migration centre isn't able to reliably contact the family member.

The scheme will only be available for certain areas. To be eligible, the family members involved must be in a country covered by one of nine participating migration offices. The participating offices include those in Bogota, Buenos Aires, Lima, London, Mexico City, Nairobi, Port of Spain, and Sao Paulo. IRCC will notify applicants if they are eligible for the program. In order to qualify, the applicant will have to have applied on December 4, 2019 or later.

This change in the permanent residence application procedure should eliminate some of the uncertainty and delay involved in the process of bringing family members to Canada for refugees and other protected applicants. At present, these options are available only to a limited number of applicants, but this change may indicate the direction of change in the protected person category. It appears to reflect a desire to address some of the unique challenges of this class of residence applicant.