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Barriers to Cross-Border Labor Mobility for Professionals Doing Business in Canada and the United States

Please join the Canada Institute as we launch our sixteenth One Issue, Two Voices series featuring leading national experts in best practices and policies for cross-border labor mobility.

Date & Time

Jun. 11, 2013
9:00am – 10:30am ET


5th Floor, Woodrow Wilson Center
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Cross-border labor mobility is integral to the Canadian-American economic relationship. However, increased security measures at the border have hurt the ability of professionals to use their expertise in both countries. Our panel and publication discuss the various ways to ease access for business professionals while maintaining both countries high security standards.

Stephen Cryne began the discussion by highlighting facts that display the importance of cross-border mobility. While Canada possesses a 17.4 million person strong workforce, it faces significant issues pertaining to population growth and the ratio of working people to retirees. To compensate for deficiency of certain skills in its own workforce, a country must be able to efficiently recruit and transfer talent. For Canadian and American employers, this action has been complicated by the United States’ concern about border security following 9/11 and subsequent tightening of border restrictions. The strengthening of border measures has been an obstacle to trade for Canada, which never faced the threat posed to the United States following 9/11 and, therefore, possesses fewer security concerns.

Cryne discussed a survey of 110 to 120 cross-border mobility-concerned Canadian and American employer groups, which discovered specific concerns over border security with regard to trade and issued recommendations on those points. He noted that some recommendations were addressed in the December 2012 Beyond the Border Initiative Implementation Report. Particularly, Beyond the Border addressed the need for better officer training at points of entry.  Efficiency of border crossings can differ between points of entry, complicating an employer’s ability to easily transfer goods or employees. Cryne noted that other recommendations have not yet been addressed, but expressed hope that they would be mentioned in the June report. Specifically, he recommended the Trusted Employer Model (TEP), an employer pre-clearance program that would require employers to sign a declaration stating that employees have the required skills to cross the border.

Cryne also discussed the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and how it may affect the future of Canadian-American border considerations by facilitating discussion on cross-border labor. He concluded his segment by explaining that the status quo cannot be an option for labor mobility.

After explaining how post-9/11 security changes created a separation of previously integrated border communities, Lynn Shotwell went on to discuss how CEOs have become increasingly involved in immigration issues due to the stricter measures complicating cross-border labor mobility. Employers require efficiency and predictability at the border. The current state of the border has forced some companies to push the boundaries of immigration compliance in order to maintain effective business practices. A survey of the American Council on International Personnel’s clients found that the Beyond the Border Initiative has made no great impact on easing border crossing difficulties for employers. Inconsistencies at ports of entry continue to pose problems. Alternative proposals, such as a pre-adjudication process, pose significant challenges due to the time frame for obtaining a visa.

Additionally, Shotwell discussed more recent developments that may hinder businesses’ ease of transferring employees. The Canadian government’s closure of consular offices in six cities in the United States may create delays, particularly for American businesses employing third-country nationals. As of May 2013, companies can no longer take advantage of accelerated labor market opinions, which could lengthen the visa process. Additionally, children over the age of 18 are no longer able to accompany parents on assignment in Canada unless enrolled in school, which may cause more employees to refuse assignments.

Shotwell also touched upon comprehensive immigration reform, explaining that the issue must be addressed before attention can shift to labor mobility. The proposed legislation would legalize up 11 million undocumented persons, tighten border security, reform the legal immigration system, and enhance and impose sanctions on American employers. Additional security proposals have included adding 3,500 additional border patrol officials by the end of 2017. The bill recognizes the unique and important Canadian-American border relationship by prohibiting entry-exit biometric requirements on the border and prohibiting fees.

The panel went on to discuss the reality of demand for talent. Businesses are challenged in finding the skills and talent they need within the American workforce, a fact that is forgotten by many who support the idea of hiring American. Furthermore, half of the graduates in STEM fields at American Universities are foreign nationals. Additionally, the global economy requires efficient cross-border mobility due to a company’s various locations around the world, as hiring and training new employees to audit each location would be too costly, time-consuming, and complex. Cross-border labor mobility is a challenge not exclusive to North America, as a global shortage of 42 million skilled workers in the near future will necessitate discussions and progress on the movement of talent across borders around the world. 

For access to this publication, please click here.


Hosted By

Canada Institute

The mission of the Wilson Center's Canada Institute is to raise the level of knowledge of Canada in the United States, particularly within the Washington, DC policy community.  Research projects, initiatives, podcasts, and publications cover contemporary Canada, US-Canadian relations, North American political economy, and Canada's global role as it intersects with US national interests.  Read more

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