CUSMA Replaces NAFTA, But Free Movement of Business People Remains Unchanged


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Rules on temporary entry for business people remained unchanged as the Canada-United States-Mexico Agreement (CUSMA) went into force on Wednesday, July 1, replacing the previous North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

An Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) update confirmed that CUSMA treats Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) and work permit exemptions in exactly the same way as NAFTA.

“The only change … is the name,” an IRCC update said. “Therefore, officers should process applications in the same manner as before.”

CUSMA is the result of a Donald Trump election promise to renegotiate NAFTA, a deal agreed between the three countries in the 1990s.

While Canada refers to the agreement as CUSMA, Trump calls it the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, or USMCA.

When negotiations first began in 2017, a cloud of uncertainty hung over business people from all three countries who relied on the terms of the agreement to carry out their jobs.

But, when the new agreement was presented, the wording of the section covering movement of business people was unchanged.

Although CUSMA had made no impact on the immigration component of NAFTA, it has affected important areas including:

  • Automobiles.
  • Dairy, chicken and eggs.
  • Labour rights.
  • Copyright, digital trade, e-commerce.
  • Dispute settlement.
  • Environment.

In Canada, the immigration-related provisions of CUSMA are covered under the International Mobility Program (IMP).

It means that business people who are citizens of the U.S. and Mexico are exempt from LMIA requirements when entering Canada for activities related to the trade of good or services, or to investment.

Canadians entering the U.S. or Mexico will receive similar treatment under the agreement.

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CUSMA (as with NAFTA before it) groups business people into four categories:

  1. Business visitors.
  2. Professionals
  3. Intra-company transferees.
  4. Traders and investors.

1. Business Visitors

Business visitors engage in international business activities related to:

  • Research and design.
  • Growth, manufacture and production.
  • Marketing.
  • Sales.
  • Distribution
  • After-sales service.
  • General service.

Business visitors are authorized to enter Canada and carry out their activities without the need for a work permit.

2. Professionals

Professionals enter to provide pre-arranged professional services, either:

  • As a salaried employee of a Canadian enterprise,
  • Through a contract between the business person and a Canadian employer, or
  • Through a contract between the American or Mexican employer of the business person and a Canadian enterprise.
  • Professionals are LMIA-exempt but require a work permit.

There are 63 occupations that qualify under the ‘Professionals’ category.

General Occupations

  • Accountant
  • Architect
  • Computer Systems Analyst
  • Disaster Relief Insurance Claims Adjuster
  • Economist
  • Engineer
  • Forester
  • Graphic Designer
  • Hotel Manager (See note below for further details.)
  • Industrial Designer
  • Interior Designer
  • Land Surveyor
  • Landscape Architect
  • Lawyer (including Notary in the Province of Quebec)
  • Librarian
  • Management Consultant
  • Mathematician (including statistician and Actuary)
  • Range Manager/Range Conservationalist
  • Research assistant (working in a post-secondary educational institution)
  • Scientific Technician/ Technologist
  • Social Worker
  • Sylviculturist (including Forestry Specialist)
  • Technical Publications Writer
  • Urban Planner (including Geographer)
  • Vocational Counsellor

Medical/Allied Professionals

  • Dentist
  • Dietitian
  • Medical Laboratory Technologist (Canada)/ Medical Technologist (Mexico and the U.S.)
  • Nutritionist
  • Occupational Therapist
  • Pharmacist
  • Physician (teaching or research only)
  • Physiotherapist/Physical Therapist
  • Psychologist
  • Recreational Therapist
  • Registered Nurse
  • Veterinarian


  • Agriculturist (including Agronomist)
  • Animal Breeder
  • Animal Scientist
  • Apiculturist
  • Astronomer
  • Biochemist
  • Biologist (including Plant Pathologist)
  • Chemist
  • Dairy Scientist
  • Entomologist
  • Epidemiologist
  • Geneticist
  • Geologist
  • Geochemist
  • Geophysicist (including Oceanographer in Mexico and the U.S.)
  • Horticulturist
  • Meteorologist
  • Pharmacologist
  • Physicist (including Oceanographer in Canada)
  • Plant Breeder
  • Poultry Scientist
  • Soil Scientist
  • Zoologist


  • College
  • Seminary
  • University

3. Intra-Company Transferees

Intra-company transferees are managers, executives, or employees with specialized knowledge from American or Mexican companies being transferred to a linked Canadian business.

Intra-company transferees are LMIA-exempt but require a work permit.

4. Traders and Investors

Traders and investors carry on substantial trade in goods or services between the U.S. or Mexico and Canada or commit a substantial amount of capital in Canada. They must be supervisors or executives or have essential skills.

Traders and investors are LMIA-exempt but require a work permit.

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