January 24, 2017 – Donald Trump is following through on his pledge to make renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) the first item on his agenda after being sworn in as president.
The new U.S. leader is already planning to open talks with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto.
He pledged during the U.S. election campaign to tear up the deal if he came to power, but it looks more likely that he will try to renegotiate the terms to better favour the U.S.
What this means for Canada is unclear, although experts say Trump’s overriding focus will be on the U.S.-Mexico part of the deal.
Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and key adviser, is understood to be heading to Calgary for talks with representatives of Canada’s federal government.
“We will be starting negotiations having to do with NAFTA,” Trump said. “We are going to start renegotiating on NAFTA, on immigration and on security at the border.”
As with many of Trump’s policies, he is yet to provide detail on exactly how they will be enacted.
But buzz statements liking tearing up the agreement whipped up the enthusiasm of the supporters who swept him to power ahead of Hillary Clinton.
Now, as negotiations begin, it will start to become clear exactly what he wants to do with the trilateral agreement.
Elimination of a key U.S. visa category created under NAFTA could push more technology talent to Canada, experts say.
The Treaty NAFTA visa, created to allow high skilled individuals from Canada and Mexico to enter the U.S. provided they had employment offers, could be revoked Trump’s renegotiation plan.
It means Canadians and Mexicans who have built successful careers in the U.S. could be about to be told they have to go home.
Thousands of Canadians have taken the opportunity to cross the border and work in the U.S. under NAFTA, and Trump’s threat to end the treaty has them feeling extremely insecure.
Trump was quoted as saying the U.S. loses out significantly to Canada under the terms of the deal, saying the trade deficit was ‘tremendous’ during a campaign speech.
Whatever happens in the future, for those Canadians working in the U.S. with a TN visa, the current period is one of huge uncertainty.
With a wave of Trump-related uncertainty spread across the U.S., industry experts see at the very least an initial short term benefit to Canada’s competitiveness in attracting technology talent.
If Trump follows through on some of the anti-immigration rhetoric that was central to his victorious campaign, Canada’s competitive advantage could grow into something more long term.
Conservative estimates suggest Canada will have 182,000 vacancies in the technology sector by 2019. The growing sector is driving the economy, with 71,000 companies employing 5.6 per cent of the workforce and responsible for 7 per cent of the country’s output.
More people are employed in technology than a combination of oil and gas, mining and forestry – a indication the Canadian economy is undergoing a significant transition, meaning it needs workers with the right expertise.
Several Canadian technology companies have reported significant interest from Silicon Valley workers looking to make the move north since Trump’s election victory.
The federal government is preparing to back the industry, recently outlining a new fast-track visa specifically for technology talent, something the business community has been yearning for since the Liberals came to power in 2015.
Canadian technology giants Shopify and Hootsuite were among those lining up to praise the government’s initiative, which comes after hearing months of feedback saying the current system was inadequate.
The new plan is to allow companies that qualify to get visas and work permits approved inside two weeks as standard – under the current system the minimum processing time is six months.
Planned changes will also see the creation of a 30-day work permit that can be spread across a year, meaning companies can bring in workers for short stints without the need to apply for new paperwork each time.
The firms say they too often lose important hires to competitors in other countries because of the drawn-out process for obtaining a visa. Some have moved to employ talent from overseas to circumnavigate the visa issue.
The issue centres around the Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA), a tool designed to assess if a Canadian is available to fill the required position.
Under the new rules, companies will be able to qualify for the fast-track visa by proving they need highly-qualified foreign talent for investments, to create jobs or to transfer knowledge to Canadians. Multinationals making big investments will also be able to access the new system.
The federal government also recently tweaked its immigration policy in favour of the most qualified talent, as well as international students.
It means these groups will find it easier to qualify via the Express Entry System, the immigration tool used to select the most qualified out of those interested in moving here.
The changes – which see relatively more points awarded to candidates in certain selected professions over those qualified in other areas – came into effect on Saturday, November 19 2016.
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