NEW YORK—President Donald Trump’s plan to cancel or renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement has Canadian professionals working in the United States under a special NAFTA visa anxious, but immigration lawyers say the hysterics are ill-placed.
“We do not have a dictatorship, the hysteria is maddening,” wrote one lawyer in an informal poll conducted by Joseph Grasmick, a business immigration lawyer who literally wrote the handbook on these NAFTA visas, called TN visas.
TN visas give Canadians in qualified professions (ranging from registered nurses to dairy scientists) the ability to work in the United States without a limit on the number of times they can renew the visa, and with relatively little paperwork.
But if NAFTA is cancelled, so are the visas.
Grasmick polled Canadian lawyers practising U.S. immigration law, as well as U.S. lawyers doing the same in upstate New York. They were virtually unanimous in their opinion that there was little to worry about, though their clients seemed to think otherwise.
“I received too many messages like this to count,” wrote one lawyer in upstate New York.
Another lawyer, whom Grasmick describes as a top border lawyer, agreed that significant change was unlikely.
“I think changes will be with enforcement priorities rather than benefits,” she wrote.
That enforcement is more likely to focus on the Mexican border rather than the Canadian border, said Grasmick.
Mexicans also gained the TN visa with NAFTA but, unlike Canadians, must also go to the U.S. embassy or consulates in Mexico and apply for a visa before showing up at the border.
Canadians can arrive at the border with their paperwork in order and gain entry.
It is unclear how many Canadians are in the United States on TN visas. Homeland Security tracks the number of incidents of people entering the country on TN visas but not actual individuals. There were nearly 800,000 such admissions in 2015, but many would be Canadians and Mexicans who leave and return multiple times a year.
Fear over cancelled visas has immigration lawyers busy.
“The phone is non-stop ringing,” said Jason Finkelman, an immigration attorney in Austin, Texas.
“There are probably tens of thousands of professionals in the United States working on TN visas from Canada and Mexico.”
Technically, TN is a status for Canadians, rather than a visa, since they don’t actually need a visa to gain entry.
Though Grasmick believes there is little for Canadian professionals in the United States to worry about with regard to their TN status, he advises them to go ahead and apply for a Green Card and then apply for dual citizenship.
“That is what I am going to tell all of my clients who are in hysteria about this, but I don’t think anything is going to happen.”
TC visa a backup?
Even in the worst case scenario that NAFTA is cancelled and TN visas become defunct, Canadians have the comfort that NAFTA’s predecessor, the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement, has TC visas that they could fall back on.
“It’s the same thing anyway,” said Grasmick.
The TC visa that preceded the TN visa is nearly identical but has at least two less-recognized professions, though those could easily be added.
While Grasmick’s assessment is based on the law, officials at the U.S. State Department could not confirm by press time that TN visas would automatically default to TC visas should anything change.
A spokesperson from the State Department also refused comment on what may or may not happen in regard to TN visas if NAFTA were cancelled but said colleagues in the Consular bureau were looking into the issue.
Global Affairs, Canada’s equivalent to the State Department, deferred questions to Citizenship and Immigration Canada, which did not reply by press time.
A spokesperson with Global Affairs, however, did note the two countries’ close relationship.
“Canada and the United States have the most successful economic relationship in the world, supporting millions of middle class jobs on both sides of the border,” wrote John Babcock, a senior communications adviser for Global Affairs.
“Thirty-five states count Canada as their number one customer. We do over $2.4 billion in trade every day and millions of Americans depend directly on exports to Canada for their jobs. We continue to work constructively with the new administration to deepen trade and commerce between our two countries.”