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A U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer looks toward a car coming toward him Saturday, May 30, 2009, at the border crossing between the U.S. and Canada, in Blaine, Wash. (Elaine Thompson)
A U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer looks toward a car coming toward him Saturday, May 30, 2009, at the border crossing between the U.S. and Canada, in Blaine, Wash. (Elaine Thompson)

Start: Tony Wilson

Travelling on business? Don't say it's tourism Add to ...

A business meeting that is anticipated to last more than a week should be fully explained by disclosing a schedule of meetings. If it’s your intent to enter the United States for a meeting that will span several weeks or months, chances are you may be improperly classifying your proposed activities as “business visitor” and you may be offside of U.S. immigration laws, which is not something you want to be, given it may jeopardize your chances of returning to the U.S., even for a holiday.

Clearly, you aren’t permitted to enter the country to provide services to a U.S. business or client or to engage in work for a U.S. company while getting paid from a U.S. source, without obtaining valid work authorization. This includes independent contractors providing services to U.S. clients while in the United States where the contractor gets paid by having funds wired to his or her Canadian bank account.

So what do you do for a longer term stays in the United States, where you actually need to live and be paid there?

Treaty National (TN) Status for Professionals

For stays in the United States that could be characterized as “employment,” Ms. Naqvi explains that if you’re a Canadian citizen, it may be possible for you to obtain authorization to work in the United States as a NAFTA professional.

NAFTA outlines a series of more than 60 “professional occupations” that qualify for a work authorization known as treaty national or TN status. If you fall into this category, and other admissibility criteria are satisfied, applicants with the proper documentation will normally be permitted entry at U.S. preclearance at Canadian airports or at U.S. land border crossings.

Accountants, architects, computer systems analysts, engineers, graphic designers, scientists, lawyers, management consultants and physicians are a few examples of the applicable professions covered by TN status. Each professional category has its own minimum educational requirements and/or experience requirements that applicants must satisfy. If they don’t, they will not be as approved for TN status.

To qualify for a TN NAFTA work authorization, you must have a clear and comprehensive letter from your proposed employer or client in the United States that includes proof of the temporary position in the United States (referred to as a “supernumerary” position), the professional job description, the temporary nature of the work in the United States (a maximum of three years may be permitted at a time), the amount of remuneration you will receive, evidence that you meet the professional qualifications pursuant to NAFTA, as well as the U.S. company’s requirements for the position.

You must also have proof of your academic qualifications, prior professional experience if applicable, and proof of your Canadian citizenship. Intent to maintain your permanent residence in Canada throughout your TN status is also required. For that reason, it is a good idea to have documentary evidence of a Canadian residence. Many Canadians who obtain TN status permanently live and reside in Canada while travelling to the U.S. intermittently to engage in professional duties.

TN applications can be put together by the applicant, but often the applicant or his or her employer will have a lawyer do it for them, and shepherd the documentation through the system.

Ms. Naqvi states that common reasons for refusal of TN status under NAFTA are the production of vague employment letters, a failure of the applicant to demonstrate his or her professional requirements, a job description for a position in the U.S. that doesn’t match the profession (for example, a computer programmer applying for the position of computer systems analyst), or submitting an application in advance at the U.S. border while not being on the way to commence work in the U.S. that day, which is a requirement that surprises most people.

Intra-company Transfer (L-1 Status)

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