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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Sieve or shield : the Canada-U.S. border and high tech labor connectivity within Cascadia under NAFTA and after September 11 Richardson, Kathrine E.


This dissertation involves understanding how the particular provisions of Chapter 16 of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) dealt with temporary labor mobility of North American professionals across the Canada-U.S. border, with particular emphasis in the Pacific Northwest region (Cascadia) of Canada and the United States. Ideally, NAFTA visa/status provisions should make the temporary entry of professionals easier across the borders of all NAFTA countries - namely Canada, the United States, and Mexico-thus facilitating cross-border trade and enterprise. However, in the case of software engineers, which are a very important category for the expanding high-tech service industries of Vancouver and Seattle, it is arguably not so. Additionally, the concept of 'cross border regions' has gained increasing prominence in policy and academic discourse beginning in the early 1990s. However, in light of September 11, 2001, nation states have found it problematic to balance the need for more open borders to facilitate trade (borders as sieves) with the need for sovereignty or security concerns (borders as shields). Thus, within the context of recent literatures on 'labor mobility/immigration, industrial clusters, borders and borderlands, cross border institutions, and pre/post September 11 security measures', this research aims to better understand the dynamics of transitory immigration of 'knowledge-workers' between Vancouver and Seattle. The research methodology involved in-depth interviews with 10 companies based in Cascadia, 19 officials responsible for creating or interpreting the NAFTA visa provisions, and 15 attorneys primarily in the Cascadia region conversant with facilitating NAFTA and related international work applications. The objectives of this study were to test whether firms' demands for cross-border movements of knowledge workers (e.g. for recruitment or for international sales) were facilitated or impeded by recent NAFTA status provisions, and whether this encumbered the development of a "Cascadia" high-technology cluster, similar to Silicon Valley in the U.S.A. Findings for this dissertation suggest that the mobility of high tech employees working for Vancouver based firms was not impeded by the NAFTA status provisions. However, interpretation of the complex nature of Chapter 16 of NAFTA in part worked against certain occupations emerging in the high-technology field (especially in information technology) and there were significant differences in interpretation by border officials on the Canadian and the United States sides of the international border. Although there were delays and increased anxieties in traveling to the U.S., the events of 9/11 did not stop the flow of Canadian NAFTA professionals into the U.S. and U.S. NAFTA professionals into Canada. While access to the U.S. was not an over-riding problem for Vancouver based firms, many of these firms (and their attorneys) practiced something called "port shopping" when it came to Canadians professionals seeking NAFTA statuses at U.S. ports-of-entry. This involved seeking out a specific port-of-entry along the border line, which - based on the advice of attorneys or other professional colleagues - were felt to be more facilitative towards issuing a NAFTA status without problems. Much of the reputation of each U.S. port-of-entry's attitude towards NAFTA visa provisions was dependent on the interpretation of the port director or other influential personalities within the particular port-of-entry. By comparison, port shopping did not appear so prevalent in the case of U.S. knowledge workers seeking temporary work visa into Canada. This was due to more rigorous on-going standardized training among Canadian border officials, and a deliberate process of communication between front-line port-of-entry officers and headquarters in Ottawa. Since the creation of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in March of 2003, the U.S. had moved more towards the model of Citizenship and Immigration (CIC) Canada in some of its mandate, which requires that all DHS officers be in a state o f "on-going" training. Also, there was a greater demand of professional conduct for DHS officers, which was something that had always been required of CIC officers. As well, all airport U.S. pre-flight inspections port directors now had something called "Discretionary Authority." This power allowed the port director to grant a right of travel into the U.S for a foreigner who, normally, might be denied entry. Canadian port directors have had this power prior to September 11. Additionally, the U.S.'s DHS became more like the Canadian model in its effort to create distance between its port-of-entry officers and immigration attorneys, by not allowing U.S. attorneys to accompany clients through the adjudication process of seeking a NAFTA status at ports-of-entry. (The U.S. government tolerated this activity until August 2003.) Although there was a growing distance between port-of-entry immigration officers and Canadian and U.S. attorneys, firms needed increasingly the help of immigration attorneys with NAFTA applications, especially after September 11. In conclusion, despite the continued mobility o f professionals under NAFTA across the Canada-U.S. border between Vancouver and Seattle, this study indicates that many of the firm's employees were in fact destined for California or other urban centers in the U.S. or the rest of the world, rather than Seattle. The same held true for the one large Seattle based firm interviewed. Much of this firm's movements of NAFTA professionals into Canada were not directed to Vancouver per se. Thus, the study suggests that the economic construct of Cascadia continues to remain a figment in the imagination o f many, and that the cross border-flows of knowledge workers in Vancouver and Seattle reflect "meso/macro regional" and "global" flows rather than "micro regional" flows. Indeed, the patterns of travel for many o f these NAFTA professionals actually fell more closely within the boundaries of David McCloskey's original notion of Cascadia, which was based on an ecological perspective and reached from Alaska into North California; rather than the economic notion of Cascadia constructed by Alan Artibise, which reached from Whistler, B.C. to Eugene, Oregon. Finally, regarding the concept of the Canada-U.S. border being a "Sieve or Shield," there remained a tension between U.S. federal concerns, namely "shield" effects, of heightened security coupled with cross border economic regional needs for more flexible and predictable border management, namely "sieve" effects. This dual mandate of Canada-U.S. border management highlighted the continued bipolar nature that the Canada-U.S. border, as it relates to Chapter 16 of NAFTA, is still embroiled within - continued mandates towards greater North American regional integration (sieve effects) but is still dictated by strong federal policy directives in a post 9/11 climate (shield effects).

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