James Bissett joined the Canadian government in 1956. He spent the next 36 years as a public servant in the Departments of Citizenship and Immigration and Foreign Affairs. In 1974 he was appointed head of the Immigration Foreign services. During the early 1970s he served at the Canadian High Commission in London, England. In 1980 he became the assistant undersecretary of state for social affairs in the Department of External Affairs. Two years later he was appointed the Canadian High Commissioner to Trinidad and Tobago, where he remained until 1985. He was then seconded to the Department of Employment and Immigration as executive director, to help steer new immigration and refugee legislation through the Parliament of Canada. In 1990 he was then appointed Canadian Ambassador to Yugoslavia, Bulgaria and Albania.