In The Media

Americans fleeing Trump presidency could find work in Canada's new pot industry

by Susana Mas (feat. Colin Robertson)

Ottawa Sun
November 15, 2016

Americans wishing to flee a Donald Trump presidency could work in Canada’s soon-to-be-legalized pot industry, say two immigration lawyers who dedicated a how-to podcast for our neighbours to the south.

Canada is the first G7 country that has committed to legalizing marijuana, announcing at the United Nations earlier this year that it would introduce new legislation by the spring of 2017, even though doing so would breach three international treaties signed by previous Canadian governments.

A federal task force led by Canada’s former deputy prime minister Anne McLellan is expected to report back with recommendations on how to move forward by the end of November.

Many start-up companies will be seeking the expertise required to get their businesses off the ground as Canada inches closer to legalizing marijuana, immigration lawyers Betsy Kane and Mark Holthe said.

According to Kane, who is with the firm Capelle Kane in Ottawa, Canadian companies could easily tap into U.S. talent in a variety of occupations found under NAFTA.

Pharmacists, biologists, chemists, biochemists, horticulturalists, plant breeders and even soil scientists will soon find themselves in “huge demand,” Kane said.

“These type of professionals should be seeking out opportunities immediately and in the next year because I think there is a lot of demand and these people will get immediate work permits with a simple offer from many of these start-up marijuana companies.”

However, Holthe, a former immigration officer turned partner at the firm of Holthe Tilleman based in Calgary, cautioned that not every pot enthusiast would qualify for a three-year work permit.

“Just because you have a private grow-up in your backyard, doesn’t mean you’re going to qualify as a professional under NAFTA,” Holthe said.

Kane, who has some experience bringing in marijuana professionals, said she recently helped a client apply for a work permit under the plant breeder occupation under NAFTA.

“I was feeling a little nervous,” Kane said, but it was a “slam dunk — no different than a professor.”

In other words, Democrats who want to bide their time in Canada until the next U.S. presidential election in 2020, could find themselves at the forefront of a multi-billion dollar industry.

Canada’s move towards legalizing marijuana was bolstered last week when Americans in California, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada voted in favour of legalizing it for recreational use.

Their votes brought to nine the total number of states that have given the nod to pot, besides Alaska, Colorado, the District of Columbia, Oregon and Washington.

With the right credentials, Americans in those states could lend their skills to Canadian companies and move back at the end of their work permit.

“The beauty of NAFTA,” according to Holthe, “is there is no requirement on the Canadian company to show that there is no Canadian available for the job.”

This is unlike Canada’s express entry immigration system where employers need a document known as a labour market impact assessment (LMIA) before they can hire a foreign worker over a Canadian one.

“You find a company that is willing to hire you and bang, you’re in,” Holthe said.

All of this is assuming that Trump doesn’t tear up the North American Free Trade Agreement, as he vowed to do during the U.S. presidential campaign. Canada has already signalled that it is prepared to renegotiate NAFTA.

Colin Robertson, a former diplomat and vice-president and fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, said the business case speaks for itself.

Canada and the U.S. exchange approximately $1.6 million in goods and services every minute, according to the federal government, with nearly nine million U.S. jobs depending on trade and investment with Canada.

“For most of the states that voted for Trump, their principle export market is Canada,” Robertson said.

Reopening NAFTA could be an opportunity for Canada to bring the agreement into the 21st century.

“There are lots of good things about NAFTA but I wouldn’t be opposed to modernizing the occupations list,” Kane said.

Some of the occupations under NAFTA are rarely used and don’t really reflect the technology skills of today’s professionals.

“There’s a whole series of professions that we didn’t think of, that didn’t exist in 1994 when NAFTA came into effect,” said Robertson.

As for Canadian employers luring U.S. talent, there’s no doubt Canada could stand to benefit from a Trump exodus, however small.

American celebrities who vowed to move to Canada if Trump won — such as Bryan Cranston who is also in favour of legalizing marijuana — could also find some work in British Columbia where the film and TV industry continues to thrive largely due to generous tax credits.

“Even if one per cent of those who said they were thinking of coming here did, it would not be insignificant,” Robertson said.

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