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View Full Version : My Canadian Oddyssey: Part 1


JBM
07-01-2008, 08:31 AM
As promised, here is the first installment of the, ahem, fun I had with working in Canada as it relates to dealing with the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol and the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA).

One year ago, I was approached about providing project control (bean counter) for a new power plant for which GE was providing gas/steam turbines and generators just south of Sarnia, Ontario. Having grown up across the river in the Detroit - Port Huron area, I leaped at the opportunity. I had not been back to that part of the world since 1970, so this was the perfect chance.

My only concern was the need for a work permit for such a long project. My contract agency said they would look into it, and later they came back and said that shouldn't be a problem, that I didn't need one. Armed with that opinion, I headed off to Sarnia in mid-July.

When I got to Port Huron on Friday afternoon, there was a massive backup of trucks from the bridge onto I-94, so I took a few seconds to go to the end of the Interstate at Pine Grove Ave. and just drive around a little bit. I recognized the general lay of the land, but I didn't recognize any of the buildings. Time stands still for no one, and the day was starting to tick by, so I figured I'd better get onto the bridge. (That was another change...growing up, the bridge consisted of only one three-lane span; now, there are two spans.)

The traffic was so bad, it took about an hour for me to reach Canadian customs. Once there, I was straight-up with them, saying I was a sub-contractor for GE working on their behalf as part of a team from the US supervising the installation of our equipment. The agent was polite enough and gave me a form to take over to the CBSA building to clear through their main office.

Pulling into a parking space under their awning, they gave my car a good inspection, and I then went inside. The temperature was a lot colder than it was outside...and I mean that figuratively as well as literally. The CBSA agent was brusque with me, giving me the third degree about why I was there and why a Canadian could not do my job. I pointed out I was part of an American management team (even though I was semi-clerical) taking care of the installation of American eqiupment, that I was only going to be there for a few months and go home permanently. That held no sway with her, as she classified me as a clerical type and rejected permission for me to enter Canada.

I was stunned, but what could I do? Argue with her and make it worse? These people wore bullet-proof vests and carried pistols, and I didn't want to give anyone an excuse to use them with me, so I went back to my car and headed back through the 5 o'clock rush hour back to the US...at which point I had to stop at the US office to "clear" through the joint US-Canadian computer system, which took another half-hour or so. I was totally famished, as I hadn't eaten since an early lunch in western Michigan, fully expecting to have dinner once I got to my hotel in Sarnia. They had no vending machines available at either Canadian or US customs, so I just had to "hang in there."

After finally getting cleared by US Customs, I made a dash for the Holiday Inn Express just off the bridge in Port Huron and got a room for the night. I called the duty manager at my contractor to let them know about my situation, and the hotel in Canada to lop one night off my reservation. Later, the duty manager got through to our international relations manager, and the latter worked up a letter stating that based on their understanding of Canadian immigration and labor law, I did not fall into a category that required a work permit. Isn't E-mail wonderful?

I went to dinner followed by some time at the pool. I went to bed feeling that the worst was behind, that I would be in Canada the next morning ready to go to work on Monday.

Of course, this being only part one, you know this story can't possibly end here. To be continued...

weblet
07-01-2008, 08:45 AM
Can't wait for the next installation - sounds like my experience trying to get a visa for one of my Chilean exchange students recently....

wrp96
07-01-2008, 04:11 PM
Agree I'm sitting here impatiently waiting!

Arizona Road Warrior
07-02-2008, 03:26 AM
My only concern was the need for a work permit for such a long project. My contract agency said they would look into it, and later they came back and said that shouldn't be a problem, that I didn't need one. Armed with that opinion, I headed off to Sarnia in mid-July. I travel to Canada to make sales calls on a regular basis and I have found going through customs getting harder during the past few years verus five years ago.

It is my suggestion to always carry a letter from your company along with a copy of the sales contract or etc. when traveling to Canada even if you are exempt from getting a work permit. When our software engineers perform installations in Canada even if it is for only for two or three days...they always carry a letter asking to be granted entry as a business visitor under the provisions of NAFTA in order that an after-sales servce can be completed along with a copy of the sales agreement.

JBM
07-02-2008, 09:29 AM
I travel to Canada to make sales calls on a regular basis and I have found going through customs getting harder during the past few years verus five years ago.

It is my suggestion to always carry a letter from your company along with a copy of the sales contract or etc. when traveling to Canada even if you are exempt from getting a work permit. When our software engineers perform installations in Canada even if it is for only for two or three days...they always carry a letter asking to be granted entry as a business visitor under the provisions of NAFTA in order that an after-sales servce can be completed along with a copy of the sales agreement.

Which, essentially, is what the company provided me after I was turned away by the CBSA. Stay tuned for Part 2 to find out what happened when, armed with said documents, I headed for the Canadian border once again!

Ned
07-02-2008, 10:49 AM
JBM...this isn't fair. I'm salivating now waiting for the conclusion.:p

Which, essentially, is what the company provided me after I was turned away by the CBSA. Stay tuned for Part 2 to find out what happened when, armed with said documents, I headed for the Canadian border once again!

Arizona Road Warrior
07-02-2008, 11:56 AM
Which, essentially, is what the company provided me after I was turned away by the CBSA. Stay tuned for Part 2 to find out what happened when, armed with said documents, I headed for the Canadian border once again! Make sure that it is printed...electronic documents are not accepted.

JBM
07-02-2008, 01:47 PM
Make sure that it is printed...electronic documents are not accepted.

For the record, the "legal opinion" and other docs were E-mailed to me, and I printed them at the hotel. The CBSA never took issue with that, only with their contents.