Recently, in an opinion piece published by Fox News, U.S. Representative Dave Brat of Virginia (R-VA-07) encouraged President Trump to take a “hard look” at the “special visas” contained in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) before the President approves any 2.0 version of NAFTA to make sure the agreement will be a good deal for Americans. But there are several inaccuracies in the piece that deserve some clarification:
Despite Congressman Brat’s claims to the contrary, vetting is already in place for individuals seeking a nonimmigrant NAFTA Professional (TN) visa. While NAFTA did create the TN visa category, it is not an example of an open door or open border policy. Instead, it is a door that is only opened after careful and thorough examination of an applicant by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials, and in the case of TN applicants from Mexico, additional review by consular officers at a U.S. Consulate or Embassy abroad. Representative Brat asserts that “NAFTA treaty authorities,” issue TN visas, but that’s not the case. It is the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Department of State (DOS) that decide who enters the U.S. under NAFTA pursuant to a TN visa.
The typical process for a Mexican national looks like this: An application for a TN visa is submitted to a U.S. Consulate or Embassy abroad. The applicant must provide biometrics (fingerprints and digital photo) and the photo submitted is reviewed using facial recognition technology. Then, the applicant is interviewed by a consular officer to ensure that the position he or she will be filling is a designated professional position under NAFTA and that he or she is qualified to assume that position. If approved for a TN visa, the visa is valid for one year. The applicant then presents himself or herself at a U.S. port of entry and a CBP officer determines the period of time to admit the TN visa holder to the U.S., which can be for up to three years. Thus, TN applicants from Mexico are subject to review by two federal agencies, DOS and CBP, before they can enter the U.S.
The typical process for a Canadian national is a little different. TN visas are not required for Canadian nationals so the TN application is submitted to a CBP officer at the port of entry who determines whether to admit the Canadian national in TN status for up to three years. CBP then forwards its determination to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for issuance of the approval notice. Again, at least two federal agencies are involved in the process – CBP and USCIS.
Let’s move beyond process though and talk about impact. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce published a report on NAFTA last year in which it notes that trade with Canada and Mexico supports nearly 14 million jobs in the U.S., with about 5 million of these jobs related to the increase in trade created by NAFTA. In addition, with new market access and more defined rules developed via NAFTA, U.S. services exports to Canada and Mexico have tripled over 20 years, rising from $27 billion in 1993 to $92 billion in 2014. In fiscal year (FY) 2016, DOS issued just under 15,000 TN visas. TN visa holders support U.S. industry shortages in areas such as healthcare and agriculture. But that’s not the only visa created within NAFTA. The E-1 and E-2 treaty trader/investor visa categories for Canadians and Mexicans who invest in businesses in the U.S. which create jobs for U.S. workers are part of the package too. According to the Department of Commerce, Canadian foreign direct investment supported 636,100 jobs in the U.S. in 2015 and Mexico’s foreign direct investment for the same period supported 79,900 jobs in the U.S.
I’ll admit to Congressman Brat that the tables issued by DOS about TN visas are confusing. Because “admissions” include daily commuters who live in Canada but commute to work in the United States, admission numbers are far higher than actual visas granted. But it’s important to keep in mind that the human talent flow moves in two directions. Canadian and Mexican companies hire U.S. workers under NAFTA as well. So, while any agreement may have features that could be improved, we must not shoot the U.S. economy in the foot through a myopic approach to the benefits derived from NAFTA’s immigration provisions, which also benefit U.S. workers, as well as investors in Mexico and Canada.