NAFTA 2.0, or USMCA (United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement), will hit two deadlines in this week of trade talks. Farmers will have until tomorrow to “certify their 2018 production under the $9 billion direct payment program for commodity sectors stung by retaliatory tariffs.” Over half a million farmers have received about $8.3 billion in aid from the Department of Agriculture to help mitigate the effect of tariffs on their crops. The second deadline, set for Saturday, could impose tariffs on autos and auto parts.
USMCA, with no modifications from its NAFTA predecessor, also enables citizens from any partner country to work in any of the other countries under certain professional categories in an occupations list. Known as the TN visa, or Treaty NAFTA visa, Canadian and Mexican nationals who have a prearranged full-time or part-time job with a US employer can work in America for up to 3 years. TN workers from Mexico totaled 27,374 last year, according to the State Department. And because Mexican nationals are required to apply for a NAFTA visa at a US consulate, Department of State’s records paint a much more complete migration picture. However, on the Canadian side, the US government doesn’t know how many Canadians were given visas because they can obtain a visa by “presenting required documentation to a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer at certain CBP-designated U.S. ports of entry or at a designated pre-clearance/pre-flight inspection station.” Department of Homeland Security only knows how many times, or admissions, a Canadian has entered or exited the country and State Department records present only a fraction of what could be visa allocations to Canadians.
This poses a serious challenge for USMCA negotiations as they unfold without complete or accurate migration, and thus economic, data. Canada’s equivalent of FOIA information reveals 15,305 Americans worked in Canada in 2017, the most recent year with total numbers collected. Further, 860 Mexicans worked in Canada in that same year. For those who want to reform or eliminate the program, it takes all partner countries to agree to these new terms.
It’s never a good idea to include immigration provisions in trade agreements and NAFTA was no exception. The treaty created a new guest worker program, known as the TN visa, that has disproportionately benefited citizens of Canada and Mexico, and potentially has displaced many American workers. Because the visa program was created by international agreement, not legislation, Congress can do little about it, regardless of the effects.
We do know that the number of TN workers has increased over time. US officials have estimated that in the first five years of NAFTA, approximately 130,000 Mexicans and Canadians came to work on TN visas. Applying the same methodology to the most current government data, I estimate that close to 400,000 individual TN workers have arrived in the last several years. The statistics suggest that more workers come from Canada than from Mexico; in fact, immigration officials have said that the annual number of new TN workers is far larger than the annual number of permanent immigrants from Canada. In contrast, in the last 10 years fewer than 20,000 Americans and fewer than 1,000 Mexicans were working in Canada in any given year under the auspices of NAFTA, according to Canada’s immigration agency. I am not aware of any information on the number of Americans and Canadians working in Mexico.
There is also discussion on amplifying the number of occupations in this new agreement [the USMCA] because they [NAFTA partner countries] had a list of occupations in 1994 and then we have more occupations now that could be skilled. Like new types of jobs that people are doing.
We never had a big discussion on TN visas here in Mexico. There’s been a discussion on brain drain for years, but the political situation in Mexico also changed. So, we have a different type of government now. And many people are losing jobs. Skilled people are losing their jobs because of the cuts that the president is [making]. So for people who are working in the government, they don’t work in the government anymore. Maybe half of the people who were working for the government lost their jobs. So, maybe they will go to work in private companies? Some would like maybe to go somewhere else to work? But it’s not so easy to migrate. So, I see a different situation now because the TN visas were not even mentioned…
We talk a lot about the agreement [the USMCA]… but normally, it’s [TN visas] not the main topic regarding this new agreement. The main topics are exports, imports, and even unskilled migrants and refugees from Guatemala, El Salvador, etc., are much more [part] of the discussion now than skilled migration.
The TN visa program should be modified, but not terminated. If terminated, the U.S. economy would take a hit and a study from Trade Partnerships Worldwide, LLC confirms this. I believe the way the TN visa program should be modified is by having the Trump Administration negotiate with trade partners to have TN visas follow the same format as the H1-B visa program.
The problem with TN visas is that the program is part of a treaty and not the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). Therefore, the executive branch cannot impose caps on the amount of TN visas. Further, for Canadian nationals, we do not even know how many of them are residing in the U.S. under the program because they only obtain a nonimmigrant status when applying through ports of entry. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) oversees this process and accounts for Canadian nationals who have returned more than once to the U.S. with a TN nonimmigrant status. As a result, viewing CBP statistics wouldn’t accurately tell us how many Canadian nationals are in the U.S. under this particular program. So resolving these flaws by eventually having the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) obtain more control over the TN visa program would be more beneficial. If DHS is able to only limit the amount of foreign workers who are adjudicated under the program, the U.S. economy wouldn’t feel much of a negative impact. Furthermore, DHS caps on TN visas would level the playing field for American workers who compete for jobs being sought by Mexican or Canadian nationals.