How to Get a CUSMA/NAFTA Work Permit for Canada in 2023

CUSMA/NAFTA work permit is one of the most sought-after Canadian immigration pathways for American and Mexican citizens. The Canada-United States-Mexico Agreement (CUSMA) has opened new opportunities for eligible U.S. and Mexican nationals to work in Canada. This means Canadian companies can hire foreign workers more easily from the U.S. and Mexico. This agreement has replaced the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and has streamlined the process of obtaining a work permit for eligible individuals. This article will look closer at the requirements, categories and application process for getting a CUSMA work permit in 2023. Schedule a 1-hour strategy meeting to learn how you can hire foreign workers through CUSMA.

What is the CUSMA/NAFTA?

The CUSMA is a trade agreement that replaced NAFTA between Canada, the U.S., and Mexico. The agreement aims to facilitate trade by reducing trade barriers and strengthening economic ties between the three countries. One of the significant components of the CUSMA agreement is the provision for work permits, which allows professionals from the U.S. and Mexico to work in Canada under specific categories.

What is the CUSMA/NAFTA Work Permit?

A CUSMA work permit is a document that allows foreign nationals from the U.S. or Mexico to work in Canada without the need for a Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA). The LMIA is a Canadian labour market test typically required for foreign nationals wishing to work in Canada. However, under the CUSMA agreement, certain professionals, such as business visitors, traders, and investors, can obtain work permits without an LMIA. The CUSMA work permit allows eligible professionals to work in another CUSMA country for a specified period, usually up to three years, and can be renewed. The work permit is issued by the country where the foreign national intends to work and is subject to specific eligibility requirements.

CUSMA Work Permit Graphic 1

However, it’s important to note that although these permits are LMIA-exempt, all regulations related to temporary work in Canada must still be followed by both employers and workers. The IRCC may audit the employer for compliance with the CUSMA work permit regulations. This is crucial to ensure that the rights of both parties are protected and that the temporary work program operates fairly and effectively. Adhering to these regulations is also essential to maintaining the integrity of the Canadian labour market.

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Eligibility Criteria for the CUSMA Work Permit

The eligibility requirements for the CUSMA work permit consist of 4 essential parts:

  • Eligibility: The CUSMA work permit is exclusively available to U.S. and Mexico citizens. Permanent residents or citizens of other countries are not eligible under this category.
  • Verification: Applicants must present valid proof of their citizenship, such as a passport, to qualify for the CUSMA work permit.
  • CUSMA Professionals List: The applicant’s occupation must be listed on the CUSMA Professionals List, which includes a range of professions from accountants to zoologists.
  • Specializations: Each listed profession has certain specifications and might require particular academic qualifications or licensures.
  • Requirement: Applicants must secure a  job offer from a Canadian employer to be eligible. The job offer must be related to the applicant’s profession and qualifications.
  • Details: The job offer should be detailed, outlining roles and responsibilities, compensation, location, and duration of employment.
  • Qualifications: Proof of educational qualifications such as degrees and diplomas is essential. These should be related to the profession the applicant intends to pursue in Canada.
  • Verification: If the profession requires licenses or professional memberships, proper documentation verifying these credentials is necessary.
  • Relevance: The credentials presented should be relevant and meet the profession’s standards as per Canadian regulations and industry norms.

CUSMA Work Permit Graphic 2

Application Process for the CUSMA Work Permit

Below is a step-by-step process of how to apply for the CUSMA worker permit. Each step is crucial, and applicants are advised to pay meticulous attention to detail to enhance the success probability of their application.

  • Gather Necessary Documentation:
    • Proof of citizenship (Passport)
    • A detailed job offer from a Canadian employer in a qualifying profession
    • Necessary professional licenses or certifications
    • Any additional supporting documents
  • Ensure Eligibility:
    • Confirm that the profession is covered under CUSMA
    • Make sure you meet all job requirements and qualifications
  • At a Port of Entry (POE):
    • Suitable for those who wish to obtain a work permit upon entering Canada
  • Visa Office (Online or Paper Applications):
    • Can be done prior to travelling to Canada
  • Port of Entry:
    • Present all documents to the immigration officer
    • Undergo an interview to confirm eligibility and intentions
  • Visa Office:
    • Complete the necessary forms, either digitally or on paper
    • Submit along with copies of all required documents
  • Officials will assess:
    • The validity of your job offer
    • Your eligibility and qualifications
    • Your intent to comply with the permit regulations
  • Receive Notification:
    • You will be informed about the status of your application
  • Approval:
    • POE: You may receive immediate approval and issuance of the work permit
    • Visa Office: Instructions will be given for permit collection and activation
  • Enter Canada:
    • Begin or prepare to start working in Canada
  • Compliance:
    • Ensure you comply with all terms and conditions of the CUSMA Work Permit
    • Keep track of the permit’s validity and apply for extension or renewal as necessary
  • Assess Your Eligibility for Extension or Renewal:
    • Prepare and submit necessary documents well before the permit expiration
  • Undergo the Renewal/Extension Process:
    • Similar steps as the initial application, ensuring all information is updated

CUSMA Work Permit Graphic 3

Applying at a Port of Entry vs at a Visa Office

Choosing between applying for a CUSMA work permit at a Port of Entry versus a Visa Office involves considering various factors and understanding the benefits and drawbacks of each method.

Applying at a Port of Entry (POE)

This method comes with the advantage of immediacy, as the processing and decision regarding the work permit typically happen on the spot, potentially allowing applicants to receive their permits on the same day of application. This direct approach also facilitates immediate communication between the applicant and the immigration officer, providing room for on-the-spot clarifications or resolving any minor issues. Additionally, there’s no need for a prior appointment, offering flexibility and convenience.

However, the POE application method carries inherent uncertainties. Applicants may travel to Canada without the assurance of an approved work permit, leading to potential challenges if the application is not successful. There’s also limited opportunity for rectifying problems or sourcing missing documents on short notice while at the POE, and the process could be more stressful due to its immediate and unpredictable nature.

If you are hiring international IT talent, learn all about Canadian TechImmigration in our detailed guide.

Applying at a Visa Office (Online or Paper Applications)

Applying at a Visa Office allows for advanced confirmation of eligibility and approval before travelling to Canada. This method gives applicants more time to carefully review their applications, ensuring that every part is accurate, complete, and well-supported by necessary documents. If further clarifications or additional documents are required during the application review, this method allows more flexibility to respond effectively without the pressure of immediate deadlines.

On the downside, the Visa Office application process may have longer waiting periods due to extended processing times and limited room for direct and immediate communication with immigration officers. Some applicants may also find navigating the online application systems somewhat challenging, which could make this method seem more complex. Schedule a 1-hour strategy meeting with our legal team to learn how we can make CUSMA work permits easy.

Categories of CUSMA Work Permits

There are several categories under which one can apply for the CUSMA work permit:

  • CUSMA Professionals: This category is for professionals qualified to work in one of about 60 targeted professions. Depending on the profession, applicants might need to provide educational credentials and/or proof of work experience. The professionals must have pre-arranged employment in Canada that aligns with their qualifications. Self-employed individuals cannot apply under this category.
  • CUSMA Intra-Company Transfers: For those transferred to Canada temporarily to work for a branch, subsidiary, or affiliate of their U.S. or Mexican employer. They should have worked continuously for their employer for at least one of the last three years in a position similar to their role in Canada. The functions should be managerial, executive, or involve specialized knowledge.
  • CUSMA Traders: Traders should demonstrate an intention to conduct substantial trade of goods or services between Canada and their home country. The term “substantial trade” implies that over 50% of the trade should be between Canada and the U.S. or Mexico. The trader should be employed in a supervisory or executive role or possess essential skills.
  • CUSMA Investors: Investors should show that they’ve made a substantial investment in a new or existing Canadian business. They should be entering Canada to develop and direct the business. This category can also include employees of the primary investor deemed as essential staff.
    • In the context of CUSMA, the term “substantial investment” is often interpreted based on the nature and significance of the investment in relation to the specific industry or sector rather than a fixed monetary value. Factors such as the size of the investment, its potential impact on the Canadian economy, and its relevance to the industry in question might be considered.

CUSMA Work Permit Graphic 1

Processing Times for CUSMA Work Permit

The average processing time for CUSMA work permits at a Canadian visa office in the U.S. is approximately 6 weeks. The processing times for CUSMA work permits can vary based on several factors, including the volume of applications received, the completeness of the application, and the specific category under which the applicant is applying. 

However, note that a CUSMA work permit can be obtained on the spot by submitting a well-prepared application package at Canadian ports of entry, such as airports and land border crossings.

However, it’s advisable to check the official Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) website or consult a Canadian business immigration lawyer for the most up-to-date processing times. Sobirovs is always by your side, schedule a 1-hour strategy meeting to find out how you can hire foreign workers.

Application Forms for CUSMA Work Permit

The specific application forms required for a CUSMA work permit will depend on the category under which the applicant is applying.

Applicants should refer to the official IRCC website to access the specific application forms for each category. Additionally, it’s crucial to ensure that all required documentation, as mentioned in the application form, is provided to avoid any delays in processing. Experienced business immigration lawyers at Sobirovs Law Firm can help you prepare a solid work permit application. 

Here are examples of some forms that could be applicable to CUSMA work permit application:

  • Form IMM 1295: Application for Work Permit Made Outside of Canada. This form is essential for those applying from outside of Canada. It captures essential details about the applicant and the nature of the work to be undertaken.
  • Form IMM 5802: Offer of Employment. The Canadian employer must submit this form detailing the job offer made to the applicant.
  • Form IMM 1295: Used by intra-company transferees when applying from outside Canada.
  • Form IMM 1249: Application to Change Conditions or Extend Your Stay in Canada. This is for applicants already in Canada who wish to extend their stay or change the conditions of their current work permit.
  • Form IMM 5707: Family Information Form. This document requires the applicant to provide details regarding their family members.
  • Form IMM 5409: Statutory Declaration of Common-law Union. This would be applicable if the applicant has a common-law partner.

Obtaining a CUSMA work permit for Canada involves a thorough understanding of the specific category under which one is applying and ensuring that all required documentation is provided. It’s essential to stay updated with the latest processing times and requirements by regularly checking the official IRCC website or consulting with an immigration expert.

CUSMA Work Permit Graphic 2

Frequently Asked Questions 

Our clients commonly ask questions regarding this topic. Below are the answers to the most frequently asked questions.

If you want to obtain a CUSMA (Canada-United States-Mexico Agreement) work permit, you must be a citizen of the United States or Mexico and have a job offer in Canada in a qualifying profession. You can apply for a work permit at the port of entry, like an airport or border crossing, or online before entering Canada. It is essential to ensure that you have all the necessary documents, which include proof of citizenship, a copy of the job offer, and any relevant professional licenses or certifications.
The CUSMA agreement offers eligibility to United States and Mexico citizens who have received job offers in specific professional occupations in Canada. To qualify, these professionals must possess the required qualifications, credentials, and experience necessary for the profession or job they plan to take up in Canada. This agreement aims to facilitate the movement of skilled labour between the three North American countries, helping to boost their economic growth and competitiveness while providing qualified professionals with more excellent job opportunities.
In Canada, certain types of work permits are exempt from the Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) process. Work permits issued under international agreements like CUSMA, intra-company transferees, and individuals with significant benefit work permits are all examples of LMIA-exempt categories. This means that employers hiring individuals with these types of work permits do not need to provide proof of a positive or neutral LMIA to hire them.
If you’re a U.S. citizen looking to work in Canada, you have a couple of options to apply for a work permit. The first option is to apply under CUSMA. As per the agreement, you may be eligible for a work permit if you meet the criteria outlined in the agreement. However, if you don’t qualify for CUSMA, you can still apply for a work permit through the usual process. This involves having your employer obtain a positive LMIA, after which you can apply for the work permit by referencing the LMIA. It’s important to note that the application process for a work permit can be complex, and it’s always a good idea to seek the guidance of an experienced immigration lawyer.
If you are considering working in Canada, knowing the necessary steps to obtain a work permit is essential. Usually, this process starts with you receiving a job offer from a Canadian employer. After that, your employer must apply for an LMIA from ESDC. An LMIA is a document proving the Canadian government has assessed the job and concluded that there are no Canadian citizens or permanent residents qualified and available to perform the job. Once your employer has a positive LMIA, you can then apply for a work permit, providing the LMIA number and all the required supporting documents in your application.
Obtaining a work permit in Canada can be challenging, especially if you don’t have a job offer. However, there are specific programs that you can take advantage of, like the International Experience Canada (IEC) program, which allows young people from certain countries to work and travel in Canada. If you are a spouse or common-law partner of a skilled worker or student in Canada, you may also be eligible for an open work permit. Additionally, open work permits are available under certain circumstances, such as if you are a refugee, a dependent of a diplomat, or a young worker participating in a special program. It’s important to explore all options and eligibility criteria before applying for a work permit in Canada.
The CUSMA agreement allows Mexican citizens to work in Canada, provided they fulfil certain criteria. The individual must have a job offer in a qualifying profession and meet the eligibility requirements. In addition, they can also apply for a work permit through the regular LMIA process. In this process, the Canadian employer receives a positive LMIA first, and then the Mexican citizen applies for a work permit. This option can sometimes take longer, but it is another way for Mexican citizens to work in Canada. Overall, the CUSMA agreement and regular LMIA process provide opportunities for Mexican citizens to work in Canada.
The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the Canada-United States-Mexico Agreement (CUSMA) are trade agreements that include provisions for employment immigration. The CUSMA replaced NAFTA on 1 June 2020, bringing in updated and modified provisions, including those related to labour mobility. The essence of professional worker provisions remains similar in both agreements, but CUSMA modernizes and optimizes some processes and criteria for eligibility. The CUSMA aims to make the immigration process easier for professionals, including streamlining the process for temporary entry and work permits and improving transparency and predictability in decision-making. The agreement also reflects the evolving nature of the labour market and includes new provisions for digital trade, intellectual property, and labour rights.

CUSMA Work Permit Graphic 3

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