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HR's Role in Meeting Mobility Challenges at the U.S.-Canada Border
 

By Catherine Skrzypinski  7/15/2013
 

North American business travelers who regularly cross the U.S.-Canadian border are seeking ways to expedite the process. Both U.S. and Canadian immigration experts suggest that human resource professionals take a more active role in corporate immigration matters.

Even though crossing the border between the United States and Canada is easier than entering almost any other country in the world, there is room for improvement, said Lynn Shotwell, executive director of the American Council on International Personnel (ACIP).

“Crossing the U.S.-Canadian border used to be more fluid, and there was a time when passports were not needed,” Scott W. Wright, an immigration lawyer in the labor and employment group of Minneapolis-based firm Faegre Baker Daniels, said in an interview with SHRM Online. “Now border agents on both sides are more questioning, and unprepared business travelers on both sides may be delayed or denied entry.”

Challenges of Cross-Border Mobility

Although the United States and Canada have the largest bilateral trade relationship in the world, organizations face legal and administrative challenges when transferring employees between both countries.

ACIP’s Shotwell and Stephen Cryne, president of the Canadian Employee Relocation Council in Toronto, explored this topic further in a white paper, Barriers to Cross-Border Labor Mobility for Professionals Doing Business in Canada and the United States, published in May 2013.

Shotwell and Cryne say border crossings have become more complicated in the aftermath of 9/11, as security issues continue to trump trade between the countries.

According to Cryne, the list of occupations qualified for expedited work permits in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is outdated and omits many professions, including computer software engineering, finance and IT.

What’s more, Shotwell added, getting authorization for professionals to work in the United States and Canada is often so difficult that companies will fly people to border crossings where the officials will let them in, rather than sending them to a closer but more difficult point of entry.

Shotwell and Cryne admit in the paper that neither security vigilance nor the NAFTA professional list is likely to change in the foreseeable future, but they advocate a Trusted Employer program, which calls upon U.S. and Canada border agencies to provide a streamlined visa application process for businesses.

HR as a Border Coach

Whether it’s a brief business trip or a longer work stint, HR professionals should make sure American and Canadian employees are prepared and aware of current border regulations before departure, Shotwell told SHRM Online. “Employees need to be clear with border agents about the purpose of their international assignment.”

According to Laura Dawson, Ph.D., president of Dawson Strategic in Ottawa, Ontario, HR professionals should also be well-versed in business travel practices, including the following:

  • Making sure employees possess the appropriate documentation, such as a passport or a work visa.
  • Providing employees with a verification letter of invitation on the company’s letterhead.

In addition, HR professionals should coach business travelers on how to communicate with border officers, said Elizabeth Ricci, a managing partner at Rambana & Ricci PLLC in Tallahassee, Fla.

“The business traveler should answer questions with a firm yes or no answer,” Ricci elaborated. “Answer truthfully but concisely. When people are nervous, they stumble over their speech. Border officers can detect this, but overall, they want to see if the traveler can answer their questions truthfully.”

The two countries now share criminal information from sources such as the FBI database and the Canadian Police Information Center database. A business traveler’s personal information will be displayed on a border agent’s screen. 

What’s NEXUS?

The NEXUS program, offered by U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the Canada Border Services Agency, eases the admission process for preapproved travelers, Lourdes P. Gomez, a New York-based immigration lawyer, told SHRM Online.

NEXUS allows:

  • U.S. and Canadian officials to provide expedited admission processing through dedicated lanes at most major airports.
  • Minimum customs and immigration questioning.
  • Minimal wait time—in some instances, it can be as little as 10 seconds, Ricci explained.

American and Canadian business travelers can cross the U.S.-Canada border without too much trouble or delay by carrying both their passport and their NEXUS card for identification. Applicants for a NEXUS membership card must undergo background security checks with both American and Canadian law enforcement.

The nonrefundable application fee is $50 U.S. for American citizens and green card holders and $50 CDN for Canadian citizens and permanent residents. Membership is valid for five years.

Partnering with Immigration Attorneys

If further complications arise, experts advise HR managers to have a business immigration attorney on retainer or in-house.

“It’s a rather close working partnership, and when run well, makes all the difference for a company to avail itself of international talent,” L. Edward Rios, an immigration attorney with Cox Smith in Texas, told SHRM Online.

Cryne and Wright said that immigration compliance should be treated like other areas of risk management and that this role should be filled by a senior HR manager.

“HR must play a governance role,” Cryne concluded. “If organizations do that, then their employees will have a smoother passage of entry across any border.”

Catherine Skrzypinski is a freelance writer in Toronto.

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