Cross Border Movement of Business Persons

Temporary Entry into the United States and Mexico under the North American Free Trade Agreement

A Guide for Canadian Business persons

Published by International Trade Canada


1. Temporary Entry into the United States and Mexico under the NAFTA

Under Chapter 16 of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), four categories of Canadian businesspersons can enter the United States and Mexico temporarily to conduct business.

Chapter 16 provisions do not change a member country’s general immigration regulations governing public health, safety and national security. They also do not waive the requirement for Canadian temporary workers to comply with a member country’s applicable licensing or certification requirements regarding professions or after-sales service.

For more detailed information about U.S. immigration regulations and applicable forms and fees, consult the Web site of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

For information regarding entry into Mexico as well as applicable forms and fees, please see the Web site of the Embassy of the United Mexican States.

Am I eligible to enter the United States or Mexico temporarily on business?

Chapter 16 of the NAFTA allows the following categories of businesspersons access to the United States and Mexico:

  • Business Visitors
  • Professionals
  • Intra-company Transferees
  • Traders and Investors

What is Temporary Entry?

Temporary entry, as defined in the NAFTA, means entry without the intent to establish permanent residence. For example, the United States specifies that the alien must satisfy to the inspecting immigration officer that the proposed stay is temporary. A temporary period has a reasonable, finite end that does not equate to permanent residence. In order to establish that the alien's entry will be temporary, the alien must demonstrate to the satisfaction of the inspecting immigration officer that his or her work assignment in the U.S. will end at a predictable time and that he or she will depart upon completion of the assignment.

Can my family accompany me?

For each of the above four categories, spouses and dependents may accompany you as long as they meet the member country’s existing temporary entry immigration regulations. In other words, spouses and dependents enter a NAFTA member country as visitors. There are no special provisions under the NAFTA to facilitate the issue of employment authorizations for spouses and dependents.

Spouses and dependents wishing to seek employment must also comply with the member country’s regular job validation process for temporary foreign workers. Spouses or dependents
can work in the United States only if they independently qualify under the NAFTA or under the general foreign worker provisions, including a labour certification test.

Spouses of Intra-company Transferees and Traders and Investors may benefit from general U.S. immigration provisions allowing spouses to work while in the United States. They must, however, first obtain an Employment Authorization before beginning work by submitting Form I-765. 

Don’t qualify for temporary entry under the NAFTA?

If you have a job offer or signed contract from an employer in the United States or Mexico, but you do not qualify under the four categories of NAFTA businesspersons, you may still qualify for entry under U.S. or Mexican general immigration provisions.

Occupations not covered under the NAFTA require different types of temporary worker authorizations. These include athletes, agricultural workers, computer programmers, journalists, performers, trades people, trainees, students and volunteers, among others. Information on the various processes for temporary entry into the U.S. is available on the USCIS Web site . (See also VI. Non-NAFTA Temporary Entry Visas in the United States.)

In Mexico, immigration regulations limit the categories to which foreign citizens may apply. Generally, they are only issued work permits in certain sectors or those undergoing labour shortages. More information on working or doing business in Mexico is available on the Embassy of Mexico in Canada Web site.

Be prepared!!!

  • Before you travel to the U.S. or Mexico, find out what is required to enter and stay in the country.

  • The U.S. and Mexico are foreign countries. Crossing their borders is not what it used to be. With greater security concerns, border officials often conduct more thorough inspections.

  • As a Canadian citizen legally entering the U.S. or Mexico on business, you should be prepared to show all documentation necessary to establish your identity and the purpose of your entry. You will also need to demonstrate that you do not plan to reside there indefinitely.

  • Carry your passport – it is the only document that conclusively proves you are a citizen of Canada with the right to return.

  • U.S. immigration officers have the authority to bar non-citizens from entering the country for five years if they present false documentation or misrepresent themselves. Lying to a border official is a serious offence.

  • As soon as you stop at the border, you are subject to U.S. or Mexican law. A traveller held at the border can be detained without charges and without recourse to consular or legal representation.

Before You Go, Don’t Forget...

Chapter 16 provisions of the NAFTA:

  • apply only to citizens, not permanent residents, of Canada

  • facilitate temporary entry of only certain businesspersons, not all

  • complement, but do not replace, a member country’s existing temporary entry rules and regulations

  • do not waive these countries’ existing immigration rules and regulations – you must still meet the member country’s laws on national security, public health and safety

Expedited Removal

Canadians travelling to the United States should note that U.S. Immigration’s “expedited removal” procedure allows an immigration agent, with the concurrence of a supervisor, to bar non-citizens from the United States for five years if, in their judgment, the individual presented false documentation or misrepresented themselves. Canadians should be aware that lying to a border official is a serious offence. Expedited removal is part of comprehensive reforms intended to control illegal immigration. There is no formal appeal process under expedited removal, but if you believe the law has been misapplied in your case, you can request a supervisory review by writing to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) district director responsible for the port of entry where the decision was made. Cases of possible misapplication should also be brought to the attention of the Consular Affairs Bureau of Foreign Affairs Canada at 1 800-267-6788 or (613) 944-6788 (in Ottawa) or to the attention of the nearest Canadian government office.

Not Eligible to Enter the United States?

Criminal Records

If you have a criminal record, no matter how minor or how long ago the offence occurred, you may be refused entry to the U.S. and there may be problems in transit through U.S. airports. Under U.S. law, a pardon issued by Canadian authorities is not recognized for purposes of entry into the U.S. If you have a criminal record or are unsure if you are eligible to enter the U.S., contact U.S. immigration officials at the relevant port of entry well before travelling to the United States. If you are not eligible, you may apply for a waiver of ineligibility (Form I-192, Advance Permission to Enter the United States) which is available on-line (PDF, 40.3 KB). Please keep in mind that there is a fee for this service and that it may take several months to process your application.

US Visit

On January 5, 2004, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security launched a new Entry/Exit program, dubbed US VISIT, at 115 airports and 14 seaports. Under the program, most travellers who need a visa to enter the U.S. will be required to have their fingerprints and photographs recorded electronically before entering the country. The majority of Canadian citizens travelling to the U.S. for business and/or pleasure do not require a visa, and are therefore exempt from US VISIT requirements. Only Canadians with a visa obtained from a U.S. Embassy or Consulate with their photo and biographical data in their passport are subject to US VISIT requirements. This includes Canadians with an E-Class Visa (Traders/Investors) and the K-ClassVisa (Financées), among others.

The "US Visit" program will be expanded to all major land crossings by the end of 2004, and to all remaining U.S. ports of entry by the end of 2005. "US Visit", when fully implemented, will also require travellers to register their departure from the United States. You can find more information regarding "US Visit" on the Department of Homeland Security’s Web site.

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