TN or L-1 Visa for Technical Writer?

Question: My wife will attend grad school in NYC soon. I work in Canada for a multi-national company. My company is willing to transfer me to an office in New Jersey.  Is the TN application the best way to go? Would my job as a writer/editor of training materials like how-to documents and elearning courses qualify me under the Technical Publication Writer job type? I have 3+ years experience in the field, and a university double-major BA in English and Communications Studies.

An L-1 application may also suit (since I've been with the company for over a year), but I've read that it's much harder to get, for non-managers. Also, are there special considerations if my wife is getting a separate student visa required by the school?

Answer: You may qualify for a TN visa under the Technical Publications Writer category. First, check whether your proposed job duties are suitable for a Technical Writer. The job duties should correspond with those provided in the Occupational Outlook Handbook for a Technical Writer, or at least not deviate significantly from them. The OOH states that

Technical writers put technical information into easily understandable language. They prepare product documentation, such as operating and maintenance manuals, catalogs, assembly instructions, and project proposals. Technical writers primarily are found in the information technology industry, writing operating instructions for online Help and documentation for computer programs. Many technical writers work with engineers on technical subject matters to prepare written interpretations of engineering and design specifications and other information for a general readership. Technical writers also may serve as part of a team conducting usability studies to help improve the design of a product that still is in the prototype stage. They plan and edit technical materials and oversee the preparation of illustrations, photographs, diagrams, and charts.

If your job duties reasonably fall within this description, the next step is to determine whether you possess the credentials for a Technical Writer under the NAFTA TN regulations and as further provided under the OOH. To qualify for a TN as a Technical Publications Writer, the regulations require possession of (1) a Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree; or (2) a Post-Secondary Diploma or Post-Secondary Certificate, and three years experience. You’ll need to show that you qualify for the TN based on your degrees.

For further clarification on what type of educational credentials are suitable for a Technical Writer, we turn to the OOH, which states that employers hire writers with degrees in communications, journalism, or English. It further adds that “[i]ncreasingly, technical writing requires a degree in, or some knowledge about, a specialized field—for example, engineering, business, or one of the sciences.” Your degrees may establish eligibility for the TN, and any evidence you can present of your technical ability / knowledge would further support your application.

In most cases the TN is easier to obtain and is less burdensome than the L-1 visa. For the L-1 if you’re not an executive or manager, you need to show “specialized knowledge,” which (you’re right) can be difficult to show. I don’t see any issue if your wife is also to apply for F-1 status.