Work Authorization Needed for IT Consultant?

Question: I am an IT Consultant with a 6 month contract with the Canadian subsidiary of a US based company. I have a Canadian passport. The project that I am working on requires me to visit the US head office for 4 days on alternate weeks. My question: do I need to apply for a US Visa under this arrangement? If so, would it be a TN-1Visa or some alternate?

Answer: If you're merely attending business meetings in the U.S., will not engage in any active employment, or receive payment from any U.S. source, then you may be able to enter the U.S. as a visitor (under the B-1 visitor category). The B visitor visa category prohibits working in the U.S. So if you need to perform actual IT work in the U.S., then you’ll need to apply for employment authorization.

Based on the length of your contract and the number of times you’ll need to visit the U.S., I presume you’ll be actually working. U.S. Customs and Border Protection would also most likely make this assumption, in which case would jeopardize you ability to enter the U.S. as a visitor.

As a Canadian citizen, the first place to look is the TN visa category. An IT consultant may fall under a number of TN visa categories such as Computer Systems Analyst, Engineer, Management Consultant, or Scientific Technician. You might have been eligible for an L-1 transferee visa category had you worked for the company in Canada for the past year. However, even in the event you did qualify for an L-1, the paperwork is more involved than the TN.

So if you fit under the TN, it may be more advantageous to seek employment authorization under the TN visa category. The other predominant non-immigrant worker category is the H-1B visa. However, there is an annual limit on the number of H-1B visas issued each year and they are no longer available until Oct. 1, 2008.