CHICAGO — A CHANGE in United States immigration law combined with the free-trade pact with Canada is making it easier for Canadian business people to move to and work in the US. "There is an increased demand from Canadians to move to the United States," says Joel Guberman, an immigration lawyer in Toronto. He was in Chicago last week attending the American Immigration Lawyers Association convention.
The main focus of the convention was to discuss the Immigration Act of 1990, the new rules for immigration to the US. Most provisions of that law will come into force Oct. 1.
But for Canadians who want to work in the US, it is the Free Trade Agreement of 1988, not the Immigration Act, that matters. "The immigration aspects of the free-trade pact went almost unnoticed by politicians and commentators," Mr. Guberman says. "Chapter 15 of the Agreement allows the temporary entry of business persons to United States."
American consular officials in Toronto say the "temporary" status can mean a professional or executive can stay in the US almost indefinitely, if the rules are followed.
"This new trader class, which applies to Canadians, is unique in the world," says John Ratigan, chief of the consular section in Toronto, the busiest US immigration office in Canada. "There is a long list of professionals who can now be granted entry for one year with a three-year limit on rollovers."
However, both immigration officials and lawyers specializing in the field acknowledge that once a person is in the US and working, it is easier to apply for permanent residence - the so-called green card - or a change in status allowing a longer stay.
There are four categories of Canadian business people who are now allowed to travel to the US. (Incidentally, the same rules apply for Americans who wish to work in Canada.)
Business visitors. These can be admitted for up to one year if the individual is engaged in one of a large group of occupations that includes engineers, accountants, scientists, and lawyers.
Investors and traders. This category grants visas for up to five years for people who "invest a substantial amount of capital" in a business enterprise. It also covers those with special managerial skills.
Professionals. This category applies only to Canadians. It grants a stay of one year, which can be renewed every year. The applicant must have a job offer from an American employer.
Intracompany transferees. This allows firms to move executives back and forth across the border. It grants a stay of up to three years, and can be renewed to a maximum of five years.
THOSE new rules under the free-trade pact will allow Canadians to beat the long lineups to work in the US. Changes to immigration law make it easier for immigrants to get a green card for permanent residence and chance at American citizenship. But rules for temporary workers have been tightened up.
"The Immigration Act of 1990 makes it easier to become a permanent resident... especially for highly skilled and managerial and professionals," says Warren Leiden, executive director of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. "But a price was paid on the nonimmigrant [temporary worker] side. Congress imposed new requirements which will mean a longer wait."
Canadians, especially business professionals, can now jump the line. Lawyers and consular officials says the best way for Canadians to get a green card is to move to the US on one of the many visas available and apply once they are settled.
The convention of Immigration lawyers in Chicago dealt with an area of law which is becomingly increasingly complex.
"If your lawyer makes a mistake with your income tax, you pay a fine," says Mr. Leiden. "If an immigration lawyer makes a mistake, you could be barred from the United States for life."
And using an immigration lawyer can be costly. "For my clients the cost can range from a few hundred dollars to as high as $10,000," said lawyer Guberman. "This week we filed a petition for a Japanese client that was several inches thick. But for some Canadians it's just a question of filling out a few forms."