Visa and cabotage

International truck drivers play an indispensable role in the interconnected trade environment among the United States, Canada, and Mexico. This guide aims to shed light on their significant contributions, the concept of cabotage, and the visa alternatives accessible under the USMCA (United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement).

Understanding “Cabotage” in the Context of International Trucking

Cabotage refers to the transportation of goods or passengers within a single country by a foreign-based operator. In the United States, strict regulations are in place to protect domestic transport services. Essentially, foreign operators are prohibited from conducting internal cargo movements within the U.S.

Restrictions and Allowances for Foreign-based Operators

Foreign-based truck operators, however, play a vital role in international trade. They are permitted to:

  • Transport goods from Canada or Mexico into the United States.
  • Collect return shipments from the U.S. for delivery back to Canada or Mexico.
  • Participate in other similar cross-border activities, as long as they adhere to the “stream of international commerce” principle outlined by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

Conversely, activities such as intra-U.S. deliveries or soliciting domestic shipments while in the U.S. are strictly off-limits to foreign-based operators.

Visa Options for International Truck Drivers

Regarding visa options, tractor-trailer operators do not fall under the TN Visa category, as this profession isn’t listed as a qualifying profession under the USMCA Chapter 16 Appendix-2. Nonetheless, these drivers can engage in cross-border transportation using a B-1 visa, within the confines of cabotage rules.

For enterprises seeking greater operational flexibility beyond the B visa constraints, the E-2 and L-1 visas offer viable solutions. The E-2 Visa is applicable for those who have significantly invested in a U.S. enterprise, while the L-1 Visa suits foreign companies with an affiliate office in the U.S., allowing these operators to compete directly within the American market.

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