Check prospects' eligibility for TN visa

DESPITE THE ECONOMIC slowdown and resulting layoffs, finding experienced IT professionals is still a challenge. Although many hiring managers and recruiters are familiar with how H1B visas work when hiring foreign national IT professionals, fewer are familiar with the TN visa. The TN visa is a fast and inexpensive nonimmigrant visa available for some Canadian IT professionals, according to Jason Boulette, a lawyer at Vinson & Elkins, in Austin, Texas, and Trudy Norman, a recruiter at Knightsbridge Solutions in Chicago.

1. Understand the TN visa

The TN visa, created under the North American Free Trade Agreement, is sometimes called the NAFTA visa. In addition to the preferential trading status given to Mexico and Canada, NAFTA provides for nonimmigrant visas for some Canadian and Mexican citizens. If TN visa qualifications are met, obtaining the visa is relatively simple for Canadian citizens who take the necessary paperwork and apply at the border. They can obtain a visa in an hour, Norman says.

"As a practical matter, the TN visa is used by Canadian citizens. The process for Mexican citizens is lengthy. The H-1B visa is often the better alternative for them," attorney Boulette says.

Easing U.S. entry with the TN visa

The nonimmigration TN visa provides an alternative to the H-1B visa for certain Mexican and Canadian citizens. TN visas are good for one year and are renewable.

TN visa requirements

* Canadian or Mexican citizenship

* Job title on the NAFTA list of TN professions -- IT job titles include computer systems analyst, graphic designer, engiineer, and management consultant

* Corresponding college degrees (except for management consultant)

* No intent to immigrate permanently to the United States

* Sponsorship by U.S. company

2. Check eligibility of candidate for TN visa

"The TN visa can be obtained by [Canadian and Mexican citizens] if an individual has specific skills," Norman says. To obtain a TN visa, Boulette says, a Canadian citizen must be sponsored by a U.S. company, be hired for a position included on the TN job list, hold a related bachelor's degree, and have several years of related experience. "The most often used [classifications] in the IT industry are computer systems analyst, graphic designer, engineer, and management consultant," Boulette says. The U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) recognizes software engineer under the engineer classification.

The TN visa holder's spouse and unmarried children can come to the United States with the visa holder. However, they may not work in the United States, Boulette says.

3. Find flexibility with the management consultant job classification

The management consultant is the most flexible of the TN job classifications, Boulette says. "The management consultant is a fluid concept. [The applicant] can have just the experience without a degree. However, the employer needs to set up the individual as a consultant rather than a typical employee," Boulette says.

Boulette cautions that the approval of a TN visa applicant enttering as a management consultant is somewhat arbitrary. "[TN visa] approval really depends on which INS adjudicator is handling the application," Boulette says.

4. Understand nonimmigrant status

The TN visa is a one-year, renewable nonimmigrant visa. The applicant must not intend to immigrate permanently to the United States. "An H-1B visa is a dual-intent visa. It's OK if the H-1B visa applicant intents to live here forever. That's not OK for a TN [visa holder]. If the [TN visa applicant] says anything at the border about staying for more than one year, the visa will be denied," Boulette says. Problems can arise on immigration intent, Boulette adds, when the TN visa applicant's letter of employment includes stock options that vest during a several-year period or if the TN visa holder tries to buy residential property in the United States.

5. Prepare visa application

The sponsoring U.S. company, with or without an attorney, usually prepares the necessary visa paperwork. When Boulette prepares a visa application, the attorney includes a cover sheet listing all documents attached, a letter from the sponsoring company, a copy of the individual's résumé, copies of diplomas or certifications, and documents to prove that the U.S. company exists. The letter from the company should include a job description corresponding to the U.S. Department of Labor's Dictionary of Occupational Titles, indicate that the position is for no longer than one year, and provide a brief description of the individual's qualifications.

6. Heed these insider's border tips

Even though obtaining a TN visa is often easier than obtaining other work visas, the INS adjudicators at the border do reject some TN visa applicants. To increase the odds that the candidate's TN visa application will be granted, Boulette makes the following suggestions.

* Make sure that the visa application and supporting documents are neat and orderly. "The INS adjudicators are very busy. Make it easy for them to find the documents they need," Boulette says.

* Dress nicely. "You're going to the border as a professional. A suit is not necessary, but don't wear cutoffs, sandals, and T-shirts, Boulette advises.

* Head east, if possible. INS adjudicators at the various border stations apply the rules in different manners. When feasible, Boulette advises TN applicants not to use the Western border station at Rainbow Bridge, an entry point often used for engineer TN visa applicants heading to Seattle. "Entry at [Rainbow Bridge] is more difficult than at other points,"Boulette says.

7. Compare the TN visa to the H-1B visa

"The TN visa is quite different from H-1B visas in the ease of bringing someone into the United States," Norman says. An H-1B visa is open to citizens of many countries. "[Employees] on an H-1B [visa] can be here three years. That is renewable one time. If [the employees] do not receive permanent residency in that time, they have to leave," Norman adds.

This story, "Check prospects' eligibility for TN visa" was originally published by InfoWorld.

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