I recently moved down to New York City with my partner to start a new chapter in life. Starting a new chapter involved getting a new job, which also came with the fun of having to navigate the visa process for being able to legally live and work in the US.
Also recently, I was approved for a Computer Systems Analyst TN visa, and I wanted to share my process and experiences along the way as a helpful resource for others who might be in a similar situation that I was in!
NOTE: I will not be providing any “tricks” or “workarounds”, as I don't believe there are any, and this entire post is based on my experiences and observations.
Here is the situation I was coming from, when applying for my TN visa:
- I am a Canadian citizen, and was based out of Toronto.
- I have a four (4) year Bachelors in Business Administration (BBA) degree from the University of Toronto.
- I had ~4.5 years of experience in the field - that's having held positions having roles and responsibilities that match the Computer Systems Analyst TN profession roles and responsibilities.
All of this matters because I had spent a good amount of time reading through stories and discussions online about Computer Systems Analyst TN visas, and how it might be difficult for those who don't have a computer-related degree or diploma.
There is a lot of information out there, often contradictory to each other, and so I felt like I had a lot to worry about.
Getting Ready for the Application
I worked with my employer and the lawyers to get all of the documentation we felt that we needed to make a strong case for my qualifications for both the job and the visa. An employer has already made a strong case for your qualifications for the job be extending you a Letter of Employment, but it helps to prove all of your other qualifications.
During your applications, it's entirely your job to help the CBP officer convince themselves that you are who you say you are, and that you do indeed qualify for the TN visa!
Here's a list of things that I was asked to provide for my supporting documentation by my lawyers:
- My resume
- Verification of Employment letters from previous employers (helps prove your working history!)
- Scan of every page of my passport (for travel history, I believe)
- Copy of my transcript
- Scan of my degree from school
Helpful tip for anyone else about to get started on this process: reach out to your previous employers early on and let them know what you're doing and why you're asking for this letter, and to help them out with asking for their letters to include at least your full name, dates you worked there, your title, and your salary during that time.
Make it as easy as possible for your previous employers - include all of the information you'd like to have on your Verification of Employment letters, and spell out your roles and responsibilities for them. Have them verify, of course, but make their lives as easy as you can!
Here's a list of things I brought with me for the application:
- My passport
- Stack of papers that made up my TN application, provided by the lawyers (It was a lot of paperwork.)
- My transcript (Order originals! Do not open the envelope and let the officer open it.)
- My degree (Yes, the physical sheet of paper that is your degree. I had it rolled up in a cardboard tube, but you can find a nice hard acrylic container for it, hopefully.)
Applying at the Border
If you're unfamiliar with the TN visa, it's something that you apply for and are approved or denied right at the border.
If you're flying, you'll walk up to the “visas” line (so not the usual kiosk for tourists!) and declare that you're here to apply for a Computer Systems Analyst TN visa. I would give myself an additional 3-4 hours before the flight leaves just to provide that extra buffer.
Sometimes, even that isn't enough, and you'll need to re-schedule your flight for later in the day or the next day.
If you're going over a land bridge/border, you'll drive up to the customs officer at the gate, and let them know you're here to apply for a Computer Systems Analyst TN visa. You'll be asked to park and enter secondary.
Additionally, if you can apply for the NEXUS long before this part of the process starts, you will be better off in the long run. It'll save you a ton of time when crossing the borders, since you will have to go into the lines for visa holders, rather than the usual Canadian citizen lines.
“Do I qualify for the TN?”
“…because I don't have a computer-related degree, or even a good number of classes related to computers.”
I remember asking that question to my lawyers before I left, because I kept reading stories about people being rejected at the border for not having the right education credentials. It was my biggest worry.
And of course, the officers asked me about why my education was unrelated to the role I intended to work in, and my career in general. I'm not sure I gave a very satisfactory answer the first time I applied for the TN, and being unprepared for that question, ultimately lead to being denied for my first time application.
I remember standing there, and hearing that I was going to be denied for my Computer Systems Analyst TN visa application. While I do remember being crushed for a minute or two, I snapped back into it because I needed to know more details.
You need to ask about the reasons you're being denied for your TN visa application, and try to get as specific as possible. Personally speaking, I was denied because my “education does not have any relation to the work that I will be doing as a Computer Systems Analyst”.
I let my employer know what happened, and we prepared for a second attempt.
Qualifying for the Computer Systems Analyst TN
If you're curious, like I was, about whether or not your education has to be computer-related in the first place, here's the actual set of requirements for the Computer Systems Analyst TN:
Computer Systems Analyst–Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree; or Post-Secondary Diploma (3) or Post Secondary Certificate (4) and three years’ experience.
(note 3) “Post Secondary Diploma” means a credential issued, on completion of two or more years of post secondary education, by an accredited academic institution in Canada or the United States.
(note 4) “Post Secondary Certificate” means a certificate issued, on completion of two or more years of post secondary education at an academic institution, by the federal government of Mexico or a state government in Mexico, an academic institution recognized by the federal government or a state government, or an academic institution created by federal or state law.
Source: NAFTA List of Professions
The important distinction for the above requirements is that you need a Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree OR a Post-Secondary Diploma or Post Secondary Certificate and three years’ experience.
I was fortunate to speak with a NAFTA officer, which was very helpful as they were most familiar with the NAFTA rules and intricacies, and they said that
note 3 or
footnote 3 was the important part of those qualifications for someone like myself.
They called it “Alternative Credentials”, where instead of a computer-related degree, you can qualify with at least a two year diploma (I had a four year degree) and at least three years of experience in the IT and tech field.
In addition, if I had any sort of certifications for relevant skills, it would have also made a stronger case for my qualifications.
At the end of the day, I felt like I had a huge weight off my shoulders when I was told I was approved for the TN visa. It was difficult finding reliable or dependable first-hand accounts of getting a Computer Systems Analyst TN visa as a business grad, so I hope this has been a helpful resource!
If you have any questions or feedback, feel free to reach out on Twitter or LinkedIn and say hello!