Will Immigration Concerns Be Addressed in NAFTA or Will Swamp Forces Prevail?

President Trump signaled yesterday that he is open to dropping his newly announced tariffs on steel and aluminum imports if the U.S. successfully renegotiates the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with Mexico and Canada. “We have large trade deficits with Mexico and Canada. NAFTA, which is under renegotiation right now, has been a bad deal for U.S.A. Massive relocation of companies & jobs. Tariffs on Steel and Aluminum will only come off if new & fair NAFTA agreement is signed,” Trump tweeted.

NAFTA – which went into effect in 1994 and is currently being renegotiated by U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) Robert Lighthizer – eliminated most tariffs on trade between the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. The trade agreement also created a little-known visa program that allows foreign workers to take high-paying professional jobs in America.

Under NAFTA, the TN visa program permits Canadian and Mexican nationals to reside in the U.S. for three years and renew that status an unlimited number of times. Unlike other high-skilled visa programs, the TN visa program contains no protections for American workers. It is estimated that almost 100,000 TN visa holders are currently working in the U.S. in 63 highly competitive professions, including doctors, lawyers, dentists, and engineers.

Even though the TN visa program does not comport with President Trump’s policy of “Buy American, Hire American,” reports have surfaced that Lighthizer is not addressing it in negotiations, and administration officials who urged him to have been sidelined.

Earlier this month, Breitbart News obtained a draft letter from DHS staffers to Lighthizer highlighting the detriment to American workers caused by TN visas included in the current version of NAFTA. However, a holdover career official told the staffers to “stand down” and the letter was subsequently scrapped.

“DHS opposes the inclusion of immigration provisions in NAFTA, because such inclusion is contrary to the aims of Executive Order 13788 ‘Buy American and Hire American,’ would constrain DHS authority to regulate immigration, contravenes Congressional pronouncements, and arguably conflicts with negotiation objectives asserted in current trade promotion authority (TPA),” the letter reads.

It continues:

“All of these positions [filled by TN visa holders]are in high demand by qualified U.S. workers. The TN program is uncapped and includes almost none of the U.S. worker protections Congress has included for certain other temporary worker programs (such as the requirement that employers advertise the position, pay the worker the prevailing wage, and ensure that importing foreign workers will not adversely impact the working conditions of U.S. workers).

[R]etaining TN provisions in NAFTA is in tension with the President’s objectives underlying Executive Order 13788, in which he stated that, “to create higher wages and employment rates for workers in the United States, and to protect their economic interests, it shall be the policy of the executive branch to rigorously enforce and administer the laws governing entry into the United States of workers from abroad.”

If the steel and aluminum tariffs are indeed being used as leverage to squeeze Mexico and Canada on NAFTA, Lighthizer has the opportunity to come to an agreement that is in line with the president’s views on immigration, and thus favorable to American workers. Will he be able to hear the advice of well-intentioned agency staff this time around? Hopefully. If not, chalk up another victory for the swamp.

About Author


RJ Hauman joined FAIR in 2015, bringing valuable legislative, regulatory, and political experience to the organization. In his role, he oversees the Government Relations department and leads FAIR’s advocacy efforts before Congress and the administration. RJ also serves as a FAIR media spokesperson on a variety of immigration issues and pending legislation. During his time on Capitol Hill, RJ gained immigration policy experience as an aide to former Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-CA), who chaired the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Immigration Policy and Enforcement. RJ holds a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from Clemson University.


  1. avatar
    Ignatius Reilly on

    Two points:
    (1) You fail to mention that U.S. workers take jobs in Canada and Mexico under the same agreement. If the U.S. revokes the work permits of Canadian and Mexican professionals, presumably Canada and Mexico will do the same to U.S. citizens working in those countries. (i.e. They will take jobs away from U.S. citizens.)
    (2) As you mention, the work permit can only be used by highly skilled professionals like doctors, lawyers, dentists, and engineers. Aren’t these the very people Trump has said he wants to attract to America? Shouldn’t we be bolstering this program to attract more high-skill professionals to this country?

    • avatar

      We don’t have enough lawyers and engineers? Your argument is the same one that companies make that want to import even more foreign workers and pay them less money. There are numerous examples of corporations, Disney for one, you know, that “family friendly” company, firing American tech workers and forcing them to train their foreign replacements. We were promised that trade deficits and job loss would not happen under NAFTA and that’s exactly what happened.

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    • avatar
      Victor Ragan on

      you are an idiot who doesn’t understand the importance of having friendly neighbours.
      Perfect example of ignorant citizens who believe whatever the politicians say without digging into the facts themselves.

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