Making your Case for a Computer Systems Analyst TN Visa

Question: I am a Canadian Citizen planning to enter US on TN status and work under 'Computer System Analyst Category' for the IT department of an investment bank. I hold a Bachelor and also a Masters degree in Electrical Engineering. I am currently pursuing a PhD in Electrical and Computer Engineering. I plan to start working in July and by that time I will have finished the requirements of the program. However, the degree will be conferred in Nov. 2008. I wonder if the PhD degree will be required in the border or a letter from school stating that I have finished the requirements will be enough. Also, in this case is it possible to file with the Masters degree instead?

Answer: The problem with applying for a TN under the Computer Systems Analyst category is that CBP officers routinely deny these applications when the applicant does not possess a specific degree in Computer Science. There is no basis for this requirement under the regulations.

To qualify for a TN in the Computer Systems Analyst category, an applicant must possess a “Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree; or Post-Secondary Diploma or Post Secondary Certificate and three years’ experience.” No specific degree is mentioned. The Hotel Manager is the only TN category that requires a specific degree or post-secondary diploma under the NAFTA TN regulations. No other TN category requires a specific degree. According to a legacy INS Memo, all that is required is that “[t]he degree should be in the field or in a closely related field. Officers should use good judgment in determining whether a degree in an allied field may be appropriate.”

When we refer to the Occupational Outlook Handbook for further guidance on the qualifications for a Computer Systems Analyst, we find that a wide variety of degrees are suitable for this profession. For jobs in a technical or scientific environment, “employers often seek applicants who have at least a bachelor’s degree in a technical field, such as computer science, information science, applied mathematics, engineering, or the physical sciences.” The OOH also provides that “[c]ollege graduates with a bachelor’s degree in computer science, computer engineering, information science, or management information systems also should enjoy very good prospects, particularly if they have supplemented their formal education with practical experience.”

This direct mention of a “computer engineering” degree as suitable for a Computer Systems Analyst position should provide evidence that your PhD in Electrical and Computer Engineering qualifies you for a TN in the Computer Systems Analyst category. You can improve your chances of success by providing evidence that you’ve completed all the coursework for your PhD. Nevertheless, you may be able to make a legitimate argument that you qualify based just on your Masters degree in Electrical Engineering based on the language above. You'll have to show how your Master's degree relates to the position. But you would make a stronger case if you can provide proof of completing the PhD program.

Because of the bias toward requiring a Computer Science degree for this TN category, I recommend bringing a copy of the OOH entry for Computer Systems Analyst to present to any inspector who questions whether your degree is suitable.