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The hypermobile, the mobile, and the rest: patterns of inclusion and exclusion in an emerging North American migration regime (1).

Abstract: While the North American Free Trade Area (NAFTA), in contrast with the European Union, contains only limited provisions on labour mobility, an informal labour mobility regime is emerging in North America. This article evaluates ways in which NAFTA entrenches patterns of inequality within the North American region by rendering some groups of people more mobile than others. In particular, we focus on the unequal treatment of workers treated as "high-skilled" in contrast to those labelled "low-skilled." This dichotomization means that Mexicans (even "high-skilled" Mexicans) receive unequal access to the North American labour market. We argue, therefore, that the newly configured economic space is not characterized by a single migration model but rather is framed by differing and intersecting circuits of labour migration that establish new patterns of inclusion and exclusion.

Resume: Contrairement a l'Union Europeenne, et bien que l'Accord de Libre Echange Nord Americain (ALENA) ne contienne que des previsions limitees sur la mobilite de la main d'oeuvre, un regime informel de la mobilite de la main d'oeuvre emerge en Amerique du Nord. Cet article evalue de quelles facons l'ALENA contribue a consolider des patrons d'inegalite a l'interieur de la region en rendant certains groupes de travailleurs plus mobiles que d'autres. Plus particulierement, nous examinons le traitement inegal de travailleurs consideres "hautement qualifies" contrairement a ceux identifies comme "peu qualifies". Cette tendance a la dichotomie signifie que les Mexicains (meme lorsqu'ils sont hautement qualifies) accedent de facon inegale le marche du travail nord americain. Notre argument consiste donc a demontrer que l'espace economique recemment reconfigure, n'est pas caracterise par un seul modele migratoire, mais plutot qu'il est constitue de circuits migratoires differes et entrecroises qui etablissent de nouveaux patrons d'inclusion et d'exclusion.


Regional economic blocs are increasingly promoted as a response to processes of globalization. In the western hemisphere, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) now stands alongside a host of other trade agreements including the Southern Cone Market Agreement (MERCOSUR) and the Caribbean Common Market (CARICOM). Starting in 1994, talks have taken place among 34 countries to extend the NAFTA model through a Free Trade Area of the Americas. More recently, the US government has also pursued trade negotiations with Latin American countries around a US-Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) to promote regional integration in Central America (Audley 2003, 4). In addition to liberalizing trade arrangements, these agreements establish regulatory structures governing certain types of labour mobility. These structures warrant closer scrutiny insofar as they are emerging as parallel regulatory regimes to that of the nation-state's existing immigration policies.

In this article, we focus on the relationship between migration, labour mobility, and neo-liberal trade agreements by examining the mobility provisions of NAFTA. In the North American context, much of the debate on international migration and continental regionalization has focused on the documented and undocumented movement of "low-skilled" workers from Mexico to the United States and relatedly on the attempts by the latter to police this movement (see Andreas 2000; Nevins 2002). However, we suggest that it is also important to recognize the consequences and contradictions of the newly emerging NAFTA labour mobility regime. Within this model certain categories --high-skilled professionals, investors, corporate elites--are privileged. That is, they are accorded mobility rights across the North American community that, for the most part, are denied to the majority of citizens in the three member countries. Moreover, as we will demonstrate, the regulatory regime itself is constituted by a set of inclusions and exclusions premised on a complex intersection between nation, class, and gender. Consequently, while the absolute numbers of people using NAFTA-related provisions may be small, the significance of the agreement's mobility provisions rest, first, in the way in which they typify neo-liberal assumptions about the value of "high-skilled" workers (see also Abu-Laban and Gabriel 2002), and, second, in what the NAFTA experience reveals about the potential (or inability) of trade agreements to address broader issues of labour mobility in the hemisphere.

We first explore some of the ways in which borders and the movement of people have figured in some of the globalization literature. Next, we examine the mobility provisions of NAFTA to demonstrate how they epitomize some tendencies toward labour mobility in the global economy. We then consider how the politics of nation plays out in the agreement. The asymmetrical relationship between the United States and Canada on the one hand, and Mexico on the other, finds expression in NAFTA's labour mobility provisions. Despite its formal membership status in the agreement, the experience of Mexico vis-a-vis mobility provisions and regulations underscores existing inequities and past histories between the three countries. As a result, Mexican professionals experience a differential regulatory regime and may not be as mobile as their counterparts in Canada and the United States. Lastly, the distinction between "high-skilled" and "low-skilled" that is at the heart of NAFTA's mobility provisions is briefly considered, highlighting how class and gender differences affect mobility even of those designated "high-skilled." Consequently, as this article concludes, it is important for future integration and migration research to consider the ways in which intersecting hierarchies based on nation, gender, and class find expression within mobility provisions of trade agreements and, by extension, frame patterns of continental integration.

Globalization, Borders, and Bodies

The increasing cross-border movement of goods, capital, and services is widely regarded as a part of the phenomenon of economic globalization. This trend has been accompanied by the development of an international regime to govern it (Hollifield 2000). For example, in the area of international finance, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank hold sway. In trade-related matters, international agreements such as the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade and the World Trade Organization bind countries to conform to certain rules or suffer sanction. Regional trade agreements such as NAFTA are another manifestation of a neo-liberal trade regime that governs how flows of goods, capital, and services are regulated. Indeed it has been suggested that these institutions are a form of supranational governance that impacts adversely on the sovereignty of the nation-state (see Clarkson 2002). To some extent, the claims of "hyperglobalists" (Held et. al. 1999, 3-5) (2) that globalization is bringing about a "borderless" economy--where nation-states are of decreasing importance--appear to be vindicated.

Yet the same borders that appear open and porous to goods, services, and capital constitute insurmountable barriers for many groups of people. In developed countries, the pursuit of "borderfree economic spaces" co-exists uneasily with the strong impetus for tough border control to keep undesirable immigrants out (Sassen 1998b, 60). The paradox of simultaneously opened and closed borders underscores the need for territorial borders to be examined more carefully. In contrast to the institutions and rules that govern trade, international mechanisms and protections directed at labour mobility are much weaker and less institutionalized (Hollifield 2000, 98-99). As Overbeek has suggested, "Neo-liberal restructuring of the global economy involves both the furthering of the 'free movement' of goods, services, and capital, and the disciplining of labour" (2000, 68). It is in this respect that individual nation-states come to the fore. But the position of many liberal states is directed toward control issues as opposed to the orderly movement of people (Hollifield 2000, 97). In the North American case, control measures are directed at both the "low-skilled" and those groups constructed as threats. Indeed, pressures for increased border control have been accentuated in the wake of the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon (see Andreas and Biersteker 2003). States are more deeply involved in border control issues than ever before and continue to wield considerable power despite neo-liberal trade arrangements.

Consequently, territorial borders and questions of immigration are sites where contradictory processes of economic globalization and the transformation of state power and sovereignty are very evident. Immigration questions, as Sassen (1998a) and others have emphasized, are deeply implicated in the changing nature of state power and sovereignty. As we will show in the next section, the mobility provisions within NAFTA offer a means to facilitate the movement of some groups of desired workers within a largely privatized regime that exists side by side with nation-states' existing immigration measures governing entry and exit of permanent migrants and other types of temporary workers.

Yet changes in the global economy, as Sassen's work suggests, do not rest on the activities of international finance and "high-skilled" knowledge workers alone. Restructuring is also dependent on the unrecognized labour of "low-skilled" industrial and service workers. These groups support the activities of other sectors as well as provide personal services demanded by higher strata. These "low-skilled" workers are frequently women and immigrants. Sassen argues that what is evident today is a process of valorization, indeed over-valorization, of certain types of economic activity, such as finance and other specialized services, and a concomitant devalorization of manufacturing and low-value added services because these do not generate the types of superprofits characteristic of much financial activity (Sassen 1998a, 86-89). As a result of increased demand for high-skilled immigrants--as well as processes of corporate restructuring in which management occurs on a regional, not a national, basis--nation-states have undertaken a wide range of policies to facilitate both permanent and temporary mobility of professionals and entrepreneurs.

It has been suggested that the very dynamics of globalization have "recast traditional patterns of inclusion and exclusion between countries by forging new hierarchies, which cut across and penetrate all societies and regions of the world" (Held et al. 1999, 8). This is especially true in terms of international migration flows. Data from Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries indicate significant polarization among immigrants' employment patterns. At one end of the spectrum are those immigrants in high-skilled professional occupations and on the other end are immigrants working in insecure, poorly paid jobs (OECD cited in Held et al. 1999, 324-325). Temporary workers occupying both ends of the spectrum also make up a significant element of current migration flows.

These developments have led some analysts to suggest that within the context of a "spatial dispersion of economic activities" there is a "new division of labour between an international, hypermobile, professional class of 'information carriers'--mostly white and male--and the low-skilled placebound workers who are disproportionately female and non-white" (Young 2001, 31). In the case of NAFTA, one assessment also suggested that the agreement's labour mobility provisions may
 introduce a new quality of civil and national 'attachment,' the
 attachment of a managerial and independent professional class
 whose first allegiance is to the profession or to the corporation
 ... and only second, if at all, to the transient local community
 of work and residence. (Gal-Or 1998, 395)

Do changes in economic relations between states lead to the emergence of a new class or sub-class of the "hypermobile" whose sense of national allegiance may be transformed through its positioning in a global labour market? In the remainder of the article, we take up this question in relation to NAFTA. The following section examines how the broad trends outlined above find expression in the North American situation.

NAFTA and Labour (Im)mobility

NAFTA created a free trade area that effectively linked the economic fate of three countries, Canada, the United States, and Mexico together. In doing so, the agreement--which reflected US interests and Concerns--encapsulated the existing asymmetrical relations that existed between the United States and Canada and between Mexico and the United States. Additionally, as many commentators have pointed out, it brought together two rich, developed countries with one less developed country. And, in contrast with the European Union (EU), NAFTA has not narrowed the gap between the rich and poor member Countries--with per capita GDP in Canada and the United States seven and eight times, respectively, that of Mexico in 1996 (Thoreau and Paracini 1998, 17). Although the agreement contains extensive clauses and chapters on matters relating to trade liberalization, deregulation of foreign investment in some sectors, and a disputes settlement mechanism, it only gestures toward labour rights and environmental concerns. These are found in the side agreements. Temporary labour mobility provisions are contained in two small sections: Chapters 12 and 16. In this portion of the article, we briefly detail these mechanisms by examining Chapter 16 and suggest that the structure of its mobility provisions is related both to the pre-existing migration dynamics in and between the three member countries and to the fact that increasing integration demands that some categories of workers become more mobile.

In many ways, NAFTA has facilitated the development of a "border-free" space for goods and services while simultaneously and consciously acting to limit the movement of labour across the newly configured North American space. It is reported that "between 1993 and 2000 trade in the NAFTA region increased from [US]$289 billion to [US]$659 billion" (Hufbauer and Vega-Canovas 2003, 130). Further, "trade between Canada and the United States has doubled, while between Mexico and the United States it has tripled." Additionally, Canada and Mexico have also developed an economic relationship within this framework (Hufbauer and Vega-Canovas 2003, 130). What is particularly noteworthy about this growth is that it is highly asymmetrical, with Canada and Mexico sending more than 80% of their exports to NAFTA partners (overwhelmingly the United States), while the United States sends only 30% of its exports to Canada and Mexico (Jannol, Meyers, and Jachimowicz 2003, 1). In other words, the economic relationship to the United States is far more important to Canada and Mexico than vice versa.

Regional trade agreements, NAFTA included, usually include some mechanism of labour mobility if only to guarantee that transnational corporations can quickly move managers and key personnel between member countries or that service providers from one nation can operate in other countries. However, the degree of labour mobility can vary significantly. On one end of the spectrum is the case of the European Union, where workers' mobility rights were recognized at the outset; at the other end of the spectrum are those agreements that stipulate very specific categories. NAFTA provides for the temporary movement of "skilled" workers in Chapter 16 (Temporary Entry for Business Persons) provisions. Under these provisions, business persons include business visitors, listed professionals, traders and investors, and intra-company transferees. In contrast to the European model, these provisions are very limited. The selective use of temporary work permits under the terms of NAFTA clearly favours "high-skilled" and professional workers and is a response to the existence of two different sets of rules governing the flow of capital and the flow of people (Sassen 1998b, 60).

Demetrios Papademetriou of the Washington-based Migration Policy Institute has suggested that the origins of NAFTA's mobility provisions are located in the historic relationship between the three member countries. Chapter 16, for example, was modelled on the provisions within the 1988 Canada-US Free Trade Agreement (CUFTA). CUFTA permitted the temporary movement of business persons, investors, and about 60 classes of professionals between Canada and the United States. This measure was the outgrowth of the long history of close ties between the two countries that permitted high levels of mobility between the countries, a high degree of integration between the two economies, and the existence of a "mature and well-administered immigration system, that in many ways paralleled that of the United States" (Papademetriou 2003, 41). Further, it has been suggested that the distinction between "high-skilled" and "low-skilled" workers that structures the CUFTA mobility provisions is the legacy of the sectoral approach that Canadian officials and negotiators attempted to pursue with the United States (Gal-Or 1998, 370). Most of the mobility measures in CUFTA were subsequently adopted in NAFTA's Chapter 16. In many ways this export of mobility provisions from CUFTA to NAFTA is problematic, as the former was premised on the specific relationship between Canada and the US. As a result, the ability of these provisions either to address Mexico's specific migration concerns or to act as the basis for a more expansive set of provisions was extremely limited.

The public debate around the 1988 FTA was among the most contentious in Canadian history. Although NAFTA was less controversial, it too generated a debate among domestic actors (see Gabriel and Macdonald 2003). However, in any case very little attention was directed to the consequences of NAFTA on either bilateral flows between Canada and the United States or North American migration more generally. Early assessments focused on the impact of the agreement for investment. As Steven Globerman argues, "[t]he potential labour market consequences of NAFTA were, therefore, primarily seen as derived from changes in geographic preferences of the MNCs [multinational corporations] as far as investment was concerned" (Globerman 1999, 1).

In contrast to Canada, the proposed agreement's mobility provisions were of primary concern to both Mexico and the United States, albeit in different ways. In the very early stages of the NAFTA talks, it appeared that the Mexican government signaled its interest in opening talks about all types of migration between itself and its northern neighbours (Papademetriou 2003, 42). This position is not so surprising given that Mexico has historically been an exporter of labour--both documented and undocumented--to the United States. As Papademetriou outlines, to some extent the temporary labour relationship had previously been regularized under the bracero Mexico-US agricultural agreement (1940-1964), which worked as a de facto guest worker program for Mexican agricultural workers. The 1986 US Immigration and Reform Control Act (IRCA) provided some measures to legalize the status of undocumented immigrants who could demonstrate that they were resident in the United States since 1982 or had been employed in the agricultural sector for a period of time. Additionally, it introduced a system of employer sanctions for those who "knowingly hired" undocumented workers. But IRCA provisions failed to open legal migration channels to meet the demand by Mexican migrants. Consequently, Papademetriou concludes that the absence of legal routes, the existing population of Mexican workers in the United States, and the continuing demand for Mexican labour all contributed to the growth of undocumented migration (2003, 44).

Not surprisingly, migration became a hot-button issue in the NAFTA negotiations because of the history of US anxiety about Mexican migration. When NAFTA was initially promoted, supporters in the United States argued that the agreement would stem the flow of illegal migrants from Mexico by encouraging development and job creation within Mexico. President Salinas stated repeatedly that Mexico wanted to export goods, not people (Papademetriou 2003, 43). Other analysts were more skeptical, however. The US Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) told the US Congress in 1993 that the adoption of the agreement would necessitate the strengthening of border control (Nevins 2000, 106). Similarly, a United Nations report warned that the impact of trade liberalization on the small scale agricultural sector would lead to higher migration pressures in the short to medium term (Population Division, United Nations Secretariat 1997, 52).

Limited information is available regarding the reasons for the exclusion of comprehensive mobility provisions in NAFTA. Recent accounts discussing the NAFTA negotiations process have omitted this issue (see Mayer 1998). However, it appears that US agencies informed their negotiators that any deal opening up the US labour market in any significant way to "low-skill" Mexican migrants would not be acceptable to Congress. Stephen Castles and Mark J. Miller characterize labour mobility as a "poison pill" because "granting Mexican workers freedom of entry to the US labour market was viewed as politically unacceptable and as certain to fail to gain ratification by the US Congress" (Castles and Miller 1993, 95). Mexican negotiators were not willing to contest this omission when it became clear that migration would be a deal breaker (Papademetriou 2003, 42). As a result, NAFTA advocates ended up arguing that NAFTA would indirectly limit migratory pressures by creating new jobs in Mexico.

The mobility provisions in NAFTA, as noted above, are a legacy of the Canada-US FTA. In many ways they are constituted by the relationship between those two countries and do not address the existing US-Mexico migration regime or, for that matter, Mexico's specific concerns. Yet, as one analyst suggested, the fact that the CUFTA mechanism of labour mobility was extended to Mexico was "revolutionary" insofar as Mexico's had "little in the way of an immigration 'system'" (Papademetriou 2003, 41). NAFTA, following on CUFTA, then proceeded to institutionalize a form of limited mobility through a system of temporary worker permits. The use of temporary permits to facilitate the circulation of businesspersons provides an example of the way in which state power is being transformed under the processes of regional integration and globalization. As Sassen states,
 NAFTA represents the privatization of certain components of
 immigration policy--specifically, the high value-added (that
 is, persons with high levels of education, capital, or both) and
 manageability (those working in the leading sectors of the
 economy who are, hence, visible migrants and subject to effective
 regulations). (Sassen 1998b, 61)

To some extent the NAFTA mechanisms for mobility epitomize a broader shift that has found expression, for example, in Canadian immigration policy. That is, these provisions construct the most attractive and desirable workers as those people who are "professionals" and "high-skilled." Increasingly, policies are underwritten by neoliberal assumptions regarding labour. In this case, skilled workers are frequently portrayed as "human capital" whose labour market skills will enhance a country's position in the globalizing economy (Li 2003, 100-123; Abu-Laban and Gabriel 2002). Recent changes within Canadian immigration policy to attract high-skilled workers on temporary contracts are, according to the government, designed "to improve Canada's competitive edge in the global competition for skilled workers" (Citizenship and Immigration Canada [CIC] 2002a).

In sum, the temporary mobility provisions within NAFTA signal a neo-liberal, market-oriented rationale. They are not directed toward liberalizing migration or harmonizing immigration policies among the three member countries. Rather, the agreement's limited provisions opened the door for some groups of people, "highly skilled" and "professionals," (in theory) to move between the member countries more easily than other citizens. However, as we show in the next section, while these elites do so under a parallel and apparently liberalized structure, they experience an unequal regulatory structure.

Labour Mobility and the NAFTA Partners

The fact that NAFTA does not provide for the free movement of persons within the trade zone does not preclude migration flows among the three member countries; a de facto migration regime does, in fact, exist. However, the nature of the flows among the three countries differs considerably, and in each case the United States is the centre of a particular migration circuit. The flow between Mexico and the United States is characterized as "polarized, with overrepresentation at both the highest and lowest ends of the skill/school spectrum, the latter comprising the overwhelming majority of both documented and (in particular) undocumented flows" (Escobar-Latapi 1999, 154). In the period between 1991 and 1996 the United States legally accepted over 1.5 million Mexicans (Thoreau and Paracini 1998, 24). Although Mexico is the largest source of permanent legal migration to the United States, it does not figure in the top 10 source countries for permanent immigration to Canada. While it is beyond the scope of this paper to consider the dimensions of the de facto North American migration regime, it is important to stress that NAFTA mobility provisions are but a small part of the broader processes of continental integration and migration.

Under the terms of NAFTA it would appear that each member Country--Canada, the United States, and Mexico--could expect to be treated as an equal partner. As we have discussed, Mexican officials chose not to pursue a liberalized migration regime in return for the consolidation of the neo-liberal project begun in the 1980s and now enshrined in NAFTA. Ironically, a review of NAFTA's 10-year record, with respect to migration, demonstrates that even within its limited mobility provisions, Mexicans did not enjoy the same access to the US labour market as did Canadians. And, somewhat ironically, the Canadian public grew more much more concerned about mobility provisions as fears of a "brain drain" to the United States took hold in the media. This increasing Canadian anxiety belied the country's earlier laissez faire attitude to Canada-US migration.

Chapter 16 of NAFTA creates a mechanism for the temporary circulation of business persons, specifically: business visitors, professionals, intra-company transferees, and traders and investors. This portion of the paper focuses specifically on the professionals category, which, according to the agreement, are "business person(s) seeking to engage in a business activity at a professional level in a profession set out in Appendix 1603.D.1, if the business person otherwise complies with existing immigration measures applicable to temporary entry" (cited in CIC 2002b, 7). This provision also allowed member countries to impose a quota on non-national professionals (Gal-Or 1998, 382). The professional worker category accounts for a substantial portion of temporary worker circulation (Globerman 1999, 17-18), and it is for this reason we use it to illustrate the way in which Canada and Mexico--far from being equal national partners--were positioned differently vis-a-vis the US regulatory regime. This is clearly demonstrated by the figures below in Table 1 detailing circulation in North America under NAFTA provisions.

The US Mexican Case: Restricting Mobility

In 1994, it might have appeared that NAFTA's new visa arrangement offered a promising route of mobility for Mexican professionals. However, the agreement also permitted member countries to impose visa requirements and quotas on the numbers of professionals if they wished. Canada chose to treat Mexican and American professionals in the same way. The United States, however, required Mexican professionals to obtain a visa. More importantly, it chose to apply a quota to persons from Mexico by establishing a "ceiling of 5,500 initial petitions of business persons seeking temporary entry under Section D [Professionals] of Annex 1603" (Gal-Or 1998, 382). It has been suggested that this was a gesture to "US congressional sensitivities" (Papademetriou 2003, 42).

Demetrios Papademetriou, in his evaluation of NAFTA's migration provisions, points out that the numbers of Mexicans using TN [NAFTA] visas over the course of the last ten years has never approached the ceiling for a number of reasons. The bureaucratic paperwork that accompanies a NAFTA visa is substantial, leading American lawyers to advise their Mexican clients to apply for another type of US visa. As he states, in contrast to the NAFTA visa,
 the [US] H-1B visa guarantees them a six-year residence ...
 [and] it does not require its holders to demonstrate to the US
 authorities that they do not intend to abandon their Mexican
 residence, that is, they do not intend to become US 'immigrants'
 --a requirement that becomes more problematic the
 longer the worker remains in the US. (Papademetriou 2003,

Additionally, Papademetriou argues that the Mexican government has not widely published the availability of the TN visa or, more interestingly, lobbied to have the unequal regulations removed. He speculates that this apparent "passivity" is related to the concern that NAFTA's visa provisions may accelerate the "flight" of well-qualified Mexican professionals to the United States (2003, 42). Ironically, as we describe below, this fear was one that found expression in Canada.

As the figures in Table 1 clearly show, the United States regulatory regime has adversely affected the entry of Mexican "high-skilled" professionals under the provisions of NAFTA. In 1994, just 11 Mexicans entered the United States under the TN category. While this number had grown to 2,571 by fiscal year 2001, it was dwarfed by the 92,915 Canadians who entered the US under this category in the same year, despite the much smaller size of the Canadian population (Papedemetriou 2003, 43). The quota and visa requirements render claims of global hypermobility for so-called elites, such as "high-skilled," very problematic.

Reflecting Mexicans' deep discontent with the existing migration regime, President Vicente Fox has placed a great deal of emphasis on winning a better deal from the US administration. After his election in August 2000, Fox worked hard to win US support for proposals to legalize current Mexican undocumented workers in the United States and create a temporary guest worker program. These proposals were part of a broader program to deepen NAFTA and build a North American community modelled after the European Union. Fox's proposals for immigration reform received surprising support from the Bush administration, cognizant of the growing numbers of Latino voters in the United States as well as the importance of Mexican immigrants in the country's workforce. In February 2001, the US and Mexico created a working group charged with creating "an orderly framework for migration that ensures humane treatment [and] legal security, and dignifies labor conditions" (Rural Migration News 2004, 1). The discovery on 23 May 2001 of 14 dead Mexican migrants in the Arizona desert led to the announcement on 22 June of a binational "Plan of Action for Cooperation on Border Security." US working group members reportedly recommended earned legalization for some undocumented migrants in the US and a new temporary worker program that would permit participants eventually to apply for permanent legal resident status. After negative reaction from some Republican congressmen, the US administration backpedalled on legalization of undocumented workers and focused on the creation of a guest worker program (Kourous and Seymour 2001, 2). Fox received an enthusiastic welcome when he addressed a joint session of the US Congress in the first week of September 2001.

However, in the wake of the attacks of September 11th all three North American countries have tightened controls over immigration, and Mexican proposals for immigration reform were moved onto the backburner in Washington. One Senate Democratic leadership aide was quoted as saying, "The option [of legalization of illegal migrants] is just completely out of the room right now. Progressive immigration policy is just another casualty of the attacks of September 11" (Brownstein 2001, 1). Many predicted that even if the initiative were to be revived, immigration reform programs were likely to be more narrow and more closely linked to security concerns, and possibly part of a "North American perimeter agreement" that draws Mexico and Canada into harmonization of visa, security, and intelligence-gathering policies (Brownstein 2001, 4).

Nonetheless, in a bid to gain Hispanic votes in the run-up to the presidential elections, in January 2004 President Bush announced a new plan to give legal status to millions of immigrants now working illegally in the United States, along with some type of guest-worker program. While the Mexican government welcomed these proposals, critics from organizations like La Raza, which represents Hispanic Americans in the United States, criticized the vague nature of the proposals and the lack of clarity about whether migrant workers could eventually win citizenship rights. Nevertheless, this initiative refocuses attention on issues around the rights of migrants within the North American economic bloc.

In this regard, it should also be noted that NAFTA has not stemmed illegal migration from Mexico to the United States. Moreover, demographic factors in addition to the impact of liberalizing economic reforms adopted by the Mexican state seem to have led to increased movement of Mexicans to the United States in search of work. Migratory pressures must also be placed within the context of the high demand within the United States for low-wage workers. Even during the recent economic downturn in the United States, demand for Mexican American workers did not decline as much as for other workers, while the negative impact of the US recession on job creation in Mexico meant there was little dampening of migration pressures (Papademetriou 2003, 51).

The Canada-US Case: Temporary Labour and NAFTA

The mobility of people between Canada and the United States stands in contrast to that of the Mexico-US case discussed above. Migration, both documented and undocumented, between Mexico and the US has been increasing in the last two decades. However, in the case of Canada and the United States, permanent immigration has remained fairly constant over the last 20 years What has become more prominent is the bilateral flow of temporary labour. Skilled professionals in Canada and the United States have used the new NAFTA visa regime to enter the other member country's labour market. Indeed, one report emphasized "strong and consistent growth in temporary immigration tied to the new TN visa" (Globerman 1999, 23). However, the report also cautions that it is difficult to determine whether it is trade liberalization per se that accounts for increasing mobility or other factors including different tax rates and living costs (Globerman 1999, 23).

As noted above, although the United States imposed both a quota and visa regulation on Mexicans, it did not do the same to Canadians. This unequal regime worked to the benefit of Canada. Under NAFTA's TN-1 visa, Canadian workers may enter the United States (and vice versa) on a temporary basis providing they satisfy the following criteria: they must provide documentation establishing citizenship, and they must indicate that they are in one of the professional categories listed in a professional occupation schedule. There is no limit on renewals (Globerman 1999, 9). Consequently, it is not surprising that the number of admissions to the United States from Canada under the NAFTA professional category in 2001 (92,915) far surpasses that of Mexico (2,571). Additionally, the 2001 figure is a substantial increase over the 24,826 admissions in 1994 (Papademetriou 2003, 43).

While NAFTA's visa regime has contributed to the acceleration of temporary bilateral movement, it should also be noted that the assumptions that structure the NAFTA model may have impacted on domestic policy changes. Provisions for the mobility of business visitors, including "skilled" professionals, have been constructed in tandem with the existing regulatory structures for temporary workers in Canada and the United States. However, the formal liberalized structure of NAFTA contrasts significantly with existing regulations governing foreign temporary workers. In the case of Canada, foreign workers have traditionally had to meet a set of stringent criteria to obtain employment authorizations. These authorizations were issued case-by-case, based, in part, on a report by a state official. In each case, employers had to demonstrate that they had made an effort to hire within Canada and that wages and working conditions were attractive to suitably qualified Canadians. Additionally, efforts were made to determine whether the employer had made reasonable efforts to hire and train Canadian citizens and permanent residents (Immigration Legislative Review 1997, 68). The Canadian government is now amending its requirements for some groups of "skilled" temporary foreign workers. These changes will effectively move provisions closer to those enshrined within NAFTA insofar as employers will take the lead role in determining where there are labour market shortages (CIC 2001).

In 1994, Canadians were not immediately worried about the bilateral implications of NAFTA on migration. Over the course of the next 10 years, however, the labour mobility provisions came under scrutiny as concerns about a "brain drain" to the United States grew. Reports indicated that Canada suffered an accelerating loss of skilled workers to the United States in a number of significant occupations during the 1990s. However, it was suggested that this loss was small both in a historical sense and compared to overall numbers of people working in these occupations (Zhao, Drew, and Murray 2000, 34). Moreover, not all of these workers used NAFTA-related visas. Despite this, considerable debate appeared in the popular press about the need for the Canadian government to address the loss of "skilled" workers to the United States. This debate around the brain drain in Canada largely obscured the fact that NAFTA mobility provisions were significantly limited (Gabriel and Macdonald 2003, 220). To the extent that the debate in Canada is couched in these terms, the limitations of NAFTA's visa regime will remain unexamined. But more importantly, proposals for a more open liberalized regime across the continent will remain off the agenda.

In sum, this case illustrates that despite the apparent formal equality of the NAFTA partners, an informal and highly asymmetrical mobility regime has emerged in North America. The movement of well-educated, "high-skilled" workers (mostly Canadian and US citizens) has been selectively facilitated by Chapter 16 of NAFTA. Indeed, the US imposition of quotas on Mexicans and a visa regime counters the liberalized provisions for categories of "high-skilled" professionals. For Mexican professionals, the TN status offers few or no benefits. Mexico thus accepted explicitly unequal treatment in Chapter 16 in return for the other benefits it expected to reap from its entry into NAFTA. Efforts by Mexican President Fox to deepen NAFTA by reforming its migration provisions have largely been rebuffed by both Canada and the United States.

NAFTA Professional Categories: Class and Gender Concerns

We have demonstrated how the operation of the NAFTA model of labour mobility needs to be understood in the context of the existing inequities and past histories between the member countries. The different positioning of Canada and Mexico in relation to the United States has produced a differential regulatory regime that adversely affects Mexican professionals. However, the very elevation of "high-skilled" professionals as a valued category also needs to be interrogated further. As the brief discussion below demonstrates, inclusions and exclusions that accompany NAFTA's migration regime are not found simply between the member nations but also across them.

The NAFTA model entrenches a division between what has been termed "high-end-of-scale" workers--including professionals, investors, business visitors, and intracompany transferees--and "low-end-of-scale workers." Consequently, "it bestows the right of mobility on the former and deprives the latter of this privilege" (Gal-Or 1998, 395). The continued de facto mobility of low-skilled, undocumented, Mexican workers illustrates that they are not entirely "placebound"--despite the increasingly expensive and perilous conditions under which they are forced to migrate--and this, coupled with the constant demand in the United States for "low-skilled workers," suggests that this division needs to be considered further.

Additionally, the professional category of the NAFTA mobility provisions, with its annex of professions, virtually guarantees that only nationals of a particular class within each member country will potentially be able to avail themselves of these provisions. The professions listed all demand a high level of education and credentials. The professional category requires that an individual have pre-arranged employment that reflects the individual's qualification. Mobility will also be premised--with bilateral relations between Canada and the United States the exception--on the ability of a national to speak another language. Additionally, one's credentials need to be recognized in the destination country. This raises accreditation issues that are not necessarily easily resolved. As Gal-Or puts it:
 As most of the professions lack a national infrastructure,
 organization initiative and skill in properly liaising with the
 local licensing bodies responsible for the implementation of
 NAFTA will be crucial. Furthermore, stakeholders better organized
 and better placed economically may have superior
 chances to liberalize mobility for themselves. (1998, 413)

Thus NAFTA's professional category not only embraces people of a particular class but in many ways may also demand an exercise of class privilege to utilize the mobility regime.

The emphasis placed on facilitating the mobility of the "high-skilled" professional category against the "low-end-of-scale" workers can also be considered from the vantage point of gender (see also Abu-Laban & Gabriel 2002). First, as many feminists have underscored, what is constructed as "high-skilled" and subsequently valued and desired is intimately connected to the sexual division of labour. The occupational segregation that women experience in national labour markets is closely linked to women's domestic labour in the private realm (service jobs such as cleaning and caring) (Bullock 1994). Not surprisingly, women's paid work is seen as unskilled or semi-skilled--and undervalued--because it is assumed that women's work is somehow natural and given (Jenson 1989). Women's unskilled work is over-represented in those sectors and activities that Sassen has identified as "devalorized." In contrast, NAFTA provisions recognizing "skilled" workers are associated with sectors and services that are valorized or over-valorized in a global economy. This raises the question of which groups of men and women are using the NAFTA mobility regime. We would argue that it is important to consider the ways in which women are able to access or are denied access to NAFTA's mobility provisions.

Additionally, the need to examine women's migration experiences as "high-skilled" workers must be taken into account as transnational corporations move employees globally, as temporary migration policies increasingly emphasize skilled workers, and as permanent immigration policies and regulations of many developed countries favour "high-skilled" categories of workers. If we are to understand the gendered circuits of labour migration across North America, it is necessary to consider men's and women's diverse and differing experiences in a range of sectors and locations, including professional and managerial occupations.

Unfortunately, the current state of the statistical data, which is not necessarily disaggregated, precludes a closer examination of the gendered nature of labour mobility under the NAFTA regime. However, a recent US study offers some insight into the different experiences of "high-skilled" men and women under temporary labour arrangements. Catalyst, a US-based research and advocacy group, coined the term "glass border" to capture the obstacles that women executives encounter when seeking global assignments. According to its study, "women hold 13% of all corporate American expatriate posts," but this "was a poor showing since women make up 49% of corporate middle managers" (Ross 2001). Experts point to a number of barriers including employers' paternalistic attitudes toward women and a failure to allow women to gain work experience abroad. Additionally, the women who are chosen for global assignments tend to be younger and single, which suggests that married women with children are not as desirable (Hollis cited by Ross 2001). This study suggests that gendered assumptions and perceptions affect the ability of men and women to seek employment abroad.

The migration regime created by NAFTA's mobility provisions, as we have illustrated, is premised on a set of inclusions and exclusions. These operate not only in terms of the different positioning of Canada and Mexico within North America and in relation to the United States, but they also operate between different groups of people.

The very dichotomy that structures the labour mobility provisions between those considered "high-skilled" and less desired "low-skilled" are premised on relations of class and gender. Women's experiences of NAFTA need to be viewed against both gendered constructions of skill and also in terms of the glass border effect.


This article has attempted to highlight the ways in which NAFTA has explicitly created a framework for a border-free economy for goods and services while containing only limited provisions for the movement of people. These limited provisions, which are designed to provide a liberalized regime for the movement of those constructed as desired--business visitors, investors, intra-company transferees, and professionals--in practice produce a set of inclusions and exclusions. These operate across nations. As we have demonstrated, American and Canadian professionals move across North American economic space more easily than their Mexican counterparts. The latter are subject to US quota provisions and a visa regime. But, additionally, at the heart of NAFTA's neo-liberal provisions is the assumption that "high-skilled" professionals are to be accorded the privilege of mobility. This assumption by necessity privileges certain classes of people but, as we have highlighted, also intersects with gender norms and roles. In the case of NAFTA's mobility provisions, it may be that men are more mobile than women. This is related in part to gendered constructions of skill but also to the effect of a glass border.

Both these issues need to be the focus of more sustained research in relation to trade agreements. Nevertheless, this examination of NAFTA's mobility regime in practice illustrates that claims regarding the emergence of a global "hypermobile" class of high-skilled workers need to be considered more carefully to reference the inclusions and exclusions that emerge through intersections of nation, gender, and class.

These inclusions and exclusions also need to be considered more carefully as NAFTA's mobility provisions provide a possible option for future mobility regimes in the hemisphere. The ongoing talks around the Free Trade Areas of the Americas (FTAA) and CAFTA will have to address the issues of mobility, if only for those groups designated as desired. NAFTA's model, as we have argued, was premised on a very specific bilateral relationship, that of Canada and the United States. As the case of Mexico illustrates, it is questionable how well these provisions will work in practice in different national contexts. Of equal importance is whether the United States, or Canada, will adopt a more open migration regime within the current post-September 11th political context. But additionally, and again drawing on Mexico's experience, mobility provisions that follow on those enshrined in NAFTA will be extremely limited in their ability to address broader issues of labour mobility. The extent to which such a model creates a space to push for a more open migration regime is questionable, as well--given Vicente Fox's attempts to deepen NAFTA by extending its mobility provisions.


(1.) This research was supported by a grant from the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC). Earlier versions of this article were presented at meetings of the International Studies Association, 2002, and "International Migration in the Americas: Emerging Issues," 2003.

(2.) Held et al. (1999, 3) argue that for hyperglobalizers "globalization defines a new epoch of human history in which 'traditional nation-states have become unnatural, even impossible business units in a new global economy'."

(3.) It is important to be clear that the US figures are detailing admissions. That is, some individuals may enter the United States multiple times in a year. In contrast, the Canadian statistics are counting individuals. Both sets of figures are drawn from Tables 1 and 2 in Papademetriou (2003, 43).

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Department of Political Science and

Pauline Jewett Institute of Women's Studies, Carleton University


Department of Political Science, Carleton University
Flow of NAFTA Professionals (3)

 FY1994 FY2001

To the United States *
 From Canada 24,826 92,915
 From Mexico 11 2,571
To Canada ([dagger])
 From the United States 6,385 8,236
 From Mexico 34 101

* Note: These figures are based on admissions, not individuals.
 Source: Year-book of Immigration Statistics, Bureau of Citizenship
 and Immigration Services cited by Papademetriou 2003, 43.

([dagger]) These figures represent individuals who have been granted
 work authorizations. Source: unpublished data provided by Citizenship
 and Immigration Canada cited by Papademetriou 2003, 43.
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Author:Gabriel, Christina; MacDonald, Laura
Publication:Canadian Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Studies
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Date:Jan 1, 2004
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