Can Canadians work in the United States?

There are several categories of U.S. work visas that a Canadian national is eligible to apply for and work under. Let’s take a look at some of them. 

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Can Canadians work in the United States?

Every year thousands of Canadian citizens enter the United States for various purposes. Seeing as the two countries share a border, travel is generally easy, thanks to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the Nexus card. Traveling to the U.S. for work, however, is a different matter and not quite as straightforward. 

The short answer is yes, Canadian citizens can indeed work in the United States, but just like any other foreign national, they must first obtain the appropriate U.S. work visa from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Plus they may only obtain the work visa after getting a job offer from a U.S. employer. Fortunately, Canadians have a number of advantages that are not available to other foreign nationals. For one, there are several categories of U.S. work visas that a Canadian national is eligible to apply for and work under. Let’s take a look at some of them. 

Types of U.S. Work Visas Available to Canadian Citizens

There are four main categories of U.S. nonimmigrant work visas that Canadian citizens qualify for --

  1. TN Visa

  2. L-1 Visa

  3. O-1 Visa 

  4. H-1B Visa

However, it is important to understand that whichever one you eventually choose has more to do with your personal situation and work experience than your country of citizenship. The only exception is the TN visa, which is specifically available to Mexican and Canadian citizens under the North American Free Trade Agreement. For this reason, this article will focus more on this visa category.

What is the TN Visa?

The TN nonimmigrant visa is the fastest way to get a U.S. work visa as a Canadian national thanks to its minimal eligibility requirements in accordance with the NAFTA arrangement. The NAFTA program was designed to create special economic and trade relationships between the United States and its North American neighbors, Mexico and Canada. The TN nonimmigrant status is then awarded to citizens from these two countries under the NAFTA agreement, allowing them to work in the United States in prearranged business activities as NAFTA professionals. TN-1 visas are for Canadians while TN-2 visas are for Mexicans.

Back in July 2019, the three countries reached a consensus to renegotiate NAFTA under a new agreement which will be known as the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA). By December 2019, the United States House of Representatives voted in favor of the USMCA, while the Senate also recently gave their bipartisan approval on January 16th, 2020. In the meantime, TN visas are still being awarded to eligible candidates and those currently on TN status may continue to work in the U.S.

Eligibility Requirements For NAFTA Professional TN Status

To qualify for a TN visa, applicants must:

  • be a Canadian citizen

  • be employed in a field that is on the NAFTA list of approved professions

  • be employed in a role that can only be fulfilled by a NAFTA professional 

  • be employed in a prearranged position for an employer in the U.S. whether full-time or part-time; self-employment is not allowed

  • have all the necessary qualifications and work experience for the position

With some exceptions, each approved NAFTA profession typically requires a baccalaureate or bachelor’s degree as an entry-level requirement. Also, work experience cannot substitute a bachelor’s degree where required. Some NAFTA professions even require both the degree and work experience. You can check the full NAFTA list to get a clearer picture of the requirements for your professional occupation.

Obtaining the TN Visa as a Canadian Citizen 

Canadian citizens do not actually need a NAFTA professional (TN) visa to enter the United States. Instead, they can simply apply for TN nonimmigrant status at the port of entry. This is actually the preferred way since applying for a TN visa with the USCIS can take a few months and can be more expensive. Moreover, applying at a port of entry means applicants can get a quicker decision on their TN status application, so if it is unsuccessful they’ll know why immediately.

If applying at the port of entry, the TN candidate must submit the required documents to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer. These include:

  • Proof of Canadian citizenship 

  • A valid Canadian passport

  • A letter from the prospective employer outlining the position, the purpose of the employment, the professional capacity of the candidate, educational qualifications and length of stay

  • All necessary documentation proving the candidate’s credentials

  • Receipts for all applicable fees

TN Visa Duration of Stay

An approved TN status is valid for a maximum period of three years, after which the TN visa holder must apply for renewal. The good news is that it is renewable indefinitely so it’s a simple matter of filing the petition every three years. If they wish to remain in the States beyond the time indicated on their I-94 card, however, they must seek an extension of stay through the I-129 extension petition with the USCIS. Their employer will be the one to file this petition on their behalf. Alternatively, they can leave the U.S. before their status expires and then apply again at a designated U.S. Customs and Border Protection port of entry and follow the same application process when they initially got admitted as a TN nonimmigrant.

Dependents of TN Nonimmigrants

The legal spouse and young children (under 21 years old) of TN visa holders may also enter the U.S. but they’ll be on TD nonimmigrant status. The TD visa doesn't allow holders to obtain a work permit to find employment while in the United States, but they can study in any U.S. schools. It also shares the same validity as that of the primary TN visa holder.

L-1 Intracompany Transferee Visa

The L-1 visa facilitates the temporary transfer of foreign employees of a multinational company to work in the United States at a branch or affiliate of the same company. This visa is only available to employees who fall under the managerial or executive capacity (L-1A visa), or those who work in a specialized knowledge capacity (L-1B visa). A foreign company looking to establish a new office in the U.S. may also do so through this visa classification. 

L-1 Visa Eligibility Requirements 

The USCIS has set some stringent conditions for those looking to petition the L-1 visa. To qualify the applicant must: 

  • have worked with the multinational company outside the U.S. for at least one full year in the last three years before the L-1 petition

  • have worked in a managerial, executive, or specialized knowledge capacity and must be entering the U.S. to work in the same capacity

  • be willing to depart the United States upon completion of their maximum allowed duration of stay

The company making the L-1 petition must also fulfill certain conditions, including:

  • Having a qualifying relationship with the U.S. company either as a parent company, subsidiary, branch or affiliate

  • Be currently doing business as an employer in the U.S. and in at least one other country for as long as the candidate will stay on the U.S. on L-1 status. 

Obtaining the L-1 Work Visa as a Canadian Citizen

There two main procedures for applying for an L-1 visa -- Regular and Blanket petition. In both cases, it is the company that must file the petition with the USCIS and send the L-1 approval notice to the candidate who will then submit it, along with other required documents at the U.S. consulate or embassy in Canada.

One of the most attractive features of the L-1 visa is that it is considered dual intent. This means L-1 visa holders may apply for permanent residence through the green card program without violating their L-1 status. 

L-1 Visa Duration of Stay 

This depends on the L-1 visa category. L-1A visa holders are allowed a maximum stay duration of seven years, while L-1B visa holders are only allowed five years. There is no extension beyond these periods and the L-1 beneficiary must either switch to a different nonimmigrant visa or apply to be a permanent resident. 

Dependents of L-1 Visa Holders

Immediate family members (spouse and minor children) of L-1 visa holders are eligible to enter the U.S. on L-2 status. Unlike the TD visa, L-2 spouses may obtain Employment Authorization Documents (EAD) to find work while in the U.S. An L-2 visa has the same duration of stay as that of the primary L-1 beneficiary. 

O-1 Visa 

The O-1 nonimmigrant visa is available to individuals with extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, business, education, or athletics. This special group falls under the O-1A visa category. 

Individuals who have demonstrated remarkable achievements in the motion picture industry and have gained national or international acclaim for those achievements may also apply for O-1 status under the O-1B visa category.

O-1 Visa Eligibility Requirements 

The conditions to qualify for an O-1 visa are pretty straightforward -- provide ample proof that you have an extraordinary ability in any of the given fields by way of sustained national or international acclaim. You must also be entering the U.S. to continue working in that particular area of extraordinary ability. In this context, international acclaim refers to highly coveted awards, such as a Pulitzer Prize or Olympic medal for the O-1A visa and a Grammy, Oscar or  Emmy for the O-1B visa. 

Obtaining the O-1 Visa as a Canadian Citizen

The O-1 visa application process is not so different from other work visas. The employer in the U.S. makes the initial application by filing Form I-129, Petition for Nonimmigrant Workers with the USCIS, along with supporting documentation proving that the applicant fulfills the requirements for the O-1 visa. This can be in the form of certificates, testimonials from highly acclaimed organizations, newspaper clippings, photographs of medals or trophies won, etc. 

If the USCIS approves the petition, then the applicant will follow the standard visa application process - File Form DS-160, pay the visa fee, gather the necessary documents and schedule an interview at the U.S. embassy or consular office in Canada. 

O-1 Duration of Stay 

An O-1 visa comes with an initial stay period of three years. Extensions are permitted in one-year increments and will require the employer to provide proof that the O-1 visa holder’s services are still needed. There is no limit to the number of extensions allowed. 

Dependents of O-1 Visa Holders 

If you’re on O-1 status, you can bring your immediate family members with you to the U.S. They will arrive on an O-3 dependents visa and will be allowed to stay for as long your O-1 visa remains valid. O-3 visa holders are not allowed to obtain work permits for employment in the U.S. but they can study in a U.S. school. 

H-1B Visa 

This is one of the most popular U.S. work visas and is available to individuals with at least a Bachelor’s degree and seeking to work in a specialty occupation. This refers to occupations in specialty fields like architecture, finance, science, technology, math and engineering. There is a quota limit of 65,000 H-1B visas issued in a fiscal year for regular applicants and an additional cap of 20,000 for applicants with an advanced degree. Like the L-1 visa, the H-1B is also considered to be dual intent, allowing beneficiaries to apply for a green card upon arrival without jeopardizing their status. 

H-1B Visa Eligibility Requirements 

Canadian citizens looking to obtain the H-1B visa must:

  • have a job offer from a U.S. employer who will petition the visa on their behalf 

  • be working in a specialty occupation and seeking to enter the U.S. to work in the same capacity

  • have at least a bachelor’s degree, though their chances are better if they have an advanced degree

Obtaining an H-1B Visa as a Candian Citizen 

The USCIS receives so many H-1B applications in a year so eligible applicants are chosen through a lottery system which typically starts on the first business day of April every year. This is the most limiting hurdle so if you are fortunate to make the cut from the lottery, then the rest of the visa application should be relatively easy. 

H-1B Duration of Stay 

The H-1B visa comes with a maximum stay period of six years. The USCIS awards it for an initial three-year period and can extend it for another three years, after which no further extension will be permitted. H-1B holders then have the option of applying for change of status to another work visa or for permanent residence through a green card. 

Dependents of H-1B Visa Holders

The spouse and young unmarried children of an H-1B visa holder are eligible to transfer to the United States on an H-4 visa. Like the L-2, H-4 spouses may obtain EADs to work during their stay in the U.S. H-4 children, on the other hand, may only enroll in a U.S. school and are not allowed to find employment. 

The Bottom Line 

Now that you understand your U.S. work visa options as a Canadian, you can then evaluate which one you most qualify for and get started on facilitating your transfer to the United States. 

But obtaining a work visa is only the first step. What happens when you’re in the States? How will your living condition be like, especially when access to basic essentials like credit cards, apartment rentals, phone plans and student loans in the U.S. are dependent on a strong U.S. credit score? It can even get more challenging since it is impossible to bring over your credit report from Canada into the U.S.

You’ll be pleased to know that there is actually a way around this with the Nova Credit Global Credit Passport. With this, you can transfer your Canadian credit history to the U.S. and use it for your credit application. Nova Credit works with top global consumer credit bureaus around the world, which allows you to use the good credit history you’ve worked so hard to build up in Canada in the U.S.

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