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New free trade agreement will allow certain Colombian citizens to work in Canada

On June 30, 2010, the Minister of International Trade announced that legislation to implement the recently signed Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement (the “Colombian FTA”) had received Royal Assent. From the perspective of immigration practitioners (and perhaps HR professionals), this is exciting news because once the legislation is effective, several additional work permit categories will become available to Colombian Citizens.

As the Colombian FTA was based on the previously implemented North American Free Trade Agreement (“NAFTA”) and Canada-Chile Free Trade Agreement (the “Chilean FTA”), the work permit categories described therein are similar (but not identical) to those contained in these prior agreements. The three work permit categories described in the Colombian FTA consist of: (a) treaty traders and investors, (b) intracompany transferees, and (c) professionals and technicians. A brief overview of each category appears below.

Treaty traders and investors

The Colombian FTA provides that work permits may be issued to:

  1. Citizens of Colombia who carry on substantial trade in goods or services principally between Colombia and Canada (treaty traders); or
  2. Citizens of Colombia who seek to establish, develop, administer or provide advice or key technical services to the operation of an investment to which the business person or the business person’s enterprise has committed, or is in the process of committing, a substantial amount of capital (treaty investors);

in a capacity that is supervisory, executive or involves essential skills, provided that the business person otherwise complies with its immigration measures applicable to temporary entry.

Intracompany transferees

The Colombian FTA provides that a work permit may be issued to a business person employed by an enterprise who seeks to render services to that enterprise or a subsidiary or affiliate thereof as an executive or manager, a specialist, or a management trainee on professional development, provided that the business person otherwise complies with the immigration measures applicable to temporary entry. The business person must have been employed continuously by the enterprise for six months within the three-year period immediately preceding the date of the application for admission.

Of course, a similar an intracompany transferee work permit category is already available (to all nationalities) under Subsection 204(a) of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations (“IRPR”). However, the one interesting difference is that the Colombian version includes a “management trainee on professional development.” This phrase is defined as “an employee with a postsecondary degree who is on a temporary work assignment intended to broaden that employee’s knowledge of and experience in a company in preparation for a senior leadership position within the company.”

Professionals and technicians

The Colombian FTA provides that a work permit may be issued to a business person seeking to engage in an occupation at a professional or technical level in accordance with Appendix 1203.D, if the business person otherwise complies with its immigration measures applicable to temporary entry, on presentation of:

  1. Proof of nationality, citizenship or permanent residency status in Colombia; and
  2. Documentation demonstrating that the business person is seeking to enter Canada to provide pre-arranged professional services in the field for which the business person has the appropriate qualifications.

One interesting difference is that, under the Colombian FTA, permanent residents are also eligible to seek the above work permits. The NAFTA and Chilean FTA extend these work permits only to citizens or nationals of the treaty country, not permanent residents.

The list of eligible professional and technical occupations, which appears in Appendix 1203.D, is also different from the list of eligible professions under the NAFTA and the Chilean FTA. In particular, it includes technical occupations that do not appear in these other agreements.

Conclusion

Once it comes into force, the Colombian FTA will offer significant immigration benefits to Colombian citizens who seek to enter Canada for business. In addition, as free trade agreements are intended to be reciprocal, Canadian citizens who seek to enter Colombia for business be entitled to seek work permits under the same terms and conditions.

Henry J. Chang
Blaney McMurtry LLP

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Henry J. Chang

Corporate immigration lawyer at Blaney McMurtry LLP
Henry J. Chang is a partner in the business immigration group of Blaney McMurtry LLP. A recognized authority in the field of United States and Canadian immigration law, Mr. Chang lectures extensively on the subject in both the United States and Canada. His written works have appeared in numerous nationally and internationally recognized legal publications, including Immigration Law and Procedure, which has been cited in over 300 federal court decisions. Read more
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