NAFTA changes could threaten cross-border’s health care, service industries

Global Business

U.S. President Donald Trump claims America’s neighbor to the north, Canada, enjoys a multi-billion dollar trade surplus, thanks to NAFTA.

That may be true, for goods, but when services – like transportation and health care – are factored in, the surplus actually favors Washington, not Ottawa. And some fear renegotiating NAFTA could threaten those sectors.

CGTN’s Roee Ruttenberg explains.

Kelly Kennedy starts her day like many working women. The 25-year-old registered Canadian nurse from Windsor, Ontario, gets dressed, grabs her lunch and keys and heads out the door to the U.S. state of Michigan. Kennedy is one of a growing number of Canadians responding to America’s nursing shortage.

In 2016, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in conjunction with the American Nursing Association, said the U.S. will be short 1.2 million nurses by the year 2022.

“Before I started working in the States, I was actually scared of crossing the border,” Kennedy says. “I have nothing to hide. I don’t have a criminal record. But crossing the border gave me the worst anxiety. Now it’s just part of my regular routine. I leave a little earlier. I go and talk to a guy in a booth. I tell him what I have in my lunch, and I go to work.”

She works in a Detroit hospital. That ‘guy-in-a-booth’ checks Kennedy’s TN-visa, a special category for professionals that was introduced more than 20 years ago as part of NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement.

In March, several Canadian nurses holding TN-visas were turned back by American border guards and told their visas were no longer valid under new U.S. immigration laws.

“They were going to require them to apply for a different visa category called H1B, which is a much more expensive visa category for the employer, and also one that has a specific time limitation that the TN-visas don’t have,” Marc Topoleski, a U.S. immigration attorney representing several Detroit hospitals said.

It turns out the U.S. border guards were wrong. The nurses were eventually allowed to cross.

The Canadian nurses said they can earn more in the U.S. They have more opportunities, but less job security. In mid-August, officials from the U.S., Canada and Mexico – the third NAFTA member – will meet to discuss renegotiating the deal’s terms. It’s unclear what effect, if any, that’ll have on the nurses.

“That’s what we don’t know,” Topoleski said, “and that’s what’s causing a lot of uncertainty among our clients, who when they hear these things in the news, they ask ‘do we need to be worried?’ And it’s hard right now to tell them what’s going to happen.”

Kennedy, the nurse, says she doesn’t like to think about politics. She prefers to focus on her work.

“You’re always going to need nurses,” she notes. “Why turn them away? You know, we’re this close, living in Windsor.”

She says she’s trying to be as optimistic as possible, but admits the road ahead is uncertain.

Steven Kyle on the US jobs market

CGTN’S Rachelle Akuffo spoke with Steven Kyle, professor of Economics at Cornell University, about the U.S. jobs market and how trade is impacting it.