Will a Minor in Graphic Design Qualify for a Graphic Designer TN?

Question: I have a BS in Business Administration and Marketing. If I take classes and acquire a minor in Graphic Design, would I qualify for TN status in Graphic Design? Because I would only have a minor, would I be subject to heightened scrutiny?

Answer: Let’s first start by going over the regulatory requirements for TN status as a Graphic Designer. To qualify you must possess one of the following:

1. A Bachelor’s (Baccalaureate) degree;

2. Licenciatura Degree;

3. Post-Secondary Diploma and three years experience; or a

4. Post-Secondary Certificate and three years experience.

Like all but one category (Hotel Manager), the regulations do not state the specific degree required. Most people presume that you need to have a Graphic Designer degree. In fact, anytime you do not possess an exact degree match for the TN occupational category, you can expect scrutiny from the border. This is far too strict an interpretation though, even according to U.S. immigration’s own policy. In a 2000 Memo, the legacy INS admitted that only the Hotel Manager TN category requires a specific degree in Hotel Management. For all other TN categories, the Memo states that the degree “should be in the field or in a closely related field.” INS Cronin Memo (Oct. 30, 2000).

U.S. immigration routinely consults the Department of Labor's Occupational Outlook Handbook (OOH) for information about the duties and educational requirements of particular occupations. The OOH can be used to determine the types of degrees suitable for a particular occupation. The OOH provides that “[a] bachelor’s…degree in graphic design is usually required for a job as a graphic designer.” The OOH also indicates that a bachelor’s degree in fine arts would be suitable. OOH, Graphic Designers.

The OOH does not specifically address whether an individual with a bachelor’s degree in another field, but with a minor in Graphic Design would qualify for this occupation. However, it does state that “[i]ndividuals who wish to pursue a career in graphic design—and who already possess a bachelor’s degree in another field—can complete a 2-year or 3-year program in graphic design to learn the technical requirements.” This language may support your argument for a TN based on your degree and a minor in Graphic Design. Additionally, the OOH states that Graphic designers with a broad liberal arts education and experience in marketing and business management will be best suited for Graphic Design positions requiring the development of communication strategies.

The reality is that with only a minor in Graphic Design, you can expect the border to heavily scrutinize your eligibility for a TN as a Graphic Designer. Most inspectors would deny the application - not necessarily correctly though. I think you can make a legitimate argument for a TN based on the OOH language above. But it will be an argument. If you hire an attorney to handle the TN application, he or she may be able to make it work for you. If you try on your own, I think you’ll have a hard time. You should consider this in determining whether you want to invest the time and money in obtaining the minor.

Another alternative is pursuing an H-1B for the position. You may qualify for an H-1B for a Graphic Designer position based on possessing the equivalency of a U.S. bachelor’s degree in Graphic Design. This is not an option under the TN visa category. But as with any immigration avenue, the H-1B has problems of its own (such as an annual numerical limitation). Read more about the H-1B visa category.