TN Visa: Engineer

Background of TN Visa Category

The TN visa occupational category for Engineers was first listed in the United States-Canada Free-Trade Agreement (FTA) in 1989. See 54 Federal Register 12 (Jan. 3, 1989). The predecessor to NAFTA, the FTA provided work authorization under TC visa status, which was only available to Canadian citizens. The occupational category for Engineers was carried over and included in the NAFTA list of available occupations in 1994. See 58 FR 69205 (Dec. 30, 1993).

TN Visa Applicant Requirements

Under the United States-Canada Free-Trade Agreement (FTA), the predecessor to NAFTA, only a Bachelor's degree was listed as an acceptable credential to qualify for visa status as an Engineer. See 54 Federal Register 48575 (Nov. 24, 1989).

In 1990, the legacy INS proposed adding a state or provincial license as an alternative credential to the bachelor's degree requirement for an Engineer. See 55 FR 6694 (Feb. 26, 1990). This proposal was adopted in 1991. 56 FR 480 (Jan. 7, 1991). With the addition of a Licenciatura degree, the credential requirements for Engineers listed in the FTA were carried over and included in the requirements for TN visa status for an Engineer under NAFTA. See 58 FR 69205 (Dec. 30, 1993).

To qualify for TN visa status under the occupational category for Engineers, an individual must possess one of the following:
  • Bachelor’s (Baccalaureate) degree;
  • Licenciatura Degree; or
  • State or provincial license
The regulations governing TN visa status generally do not provide any guidance on the type of degrees or majors suitable for a particular TN occupational category. To determine the types of degrees suitable for Engineers for purposes of a TN visa, we may refer to U.S. Department of Labor publications such as the Occupational Outlook Handbook (OOH). See Royal Siam Corp. v. Chertoff, 484 F.3d 139, 145 (1st Cir. 2007).

Alert: The legacy INS, and its successor, USCIS, have taken a more restrictive approach to the degree requirements for an Engineer particularly for Software Engineers. For example, USCIS’ internal operating procedures state that “[t]o qualify as an ‘Engineer;’ the TN must have an actual degree in the related engineer field.” Vermont Service Center, Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) 1-129 TN (Feb. 2011).

In an informational bulletin, USCIS also stated that “Engineers may not fill computer-related jobs under TN classification unless they have credentials as computer or software engineers from institutions that recognize computer or software engineering as bona fide engineering specialties offering full engineering credentials, such as professional engineering licenses.” USCIS Employment Bulletin: NAFTA (2005). The legacy INS has also previously stated that it may be reasonable to require a Software Engineer to possess a degree in engineering. Cronin Memo: Engineers & Degrees (07-24-00).

These added requirements not only contradict the TN regulations, they also contradict the acceptable educational requirements listed for Engineers in the OOH, and other industry guidelines particularly for those working in the Software Engineering field. For example, the OOH states that an individual may qualify to work as a Software Developer (Engineer) despite not possessing an Engineering degree. In addition to a degree in Software Engineering, the OOH lists degrees in Computer Science, Mathematics, or degrees in “related fields” as acceptable credentials for this occupation.

Read more about the TN visa degree requirements.

TN Visa Job Duties Requirements

The TN visa regulations do not specifically define the types of Engineer positions or job duties that are permissible under this TN category. Like the degree requirement, individuals should refer to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Outlook Handbook (OOH) for guidance on the generally accepted job duties for this occupation.

However, the legacy INS has specifically stated that Software Engineering positions may qualify for TN status under the category for Engineers.Jacquelyn A. Bednarz, Legacy INS letter (March 30, 1995).

Read more about TN visa job duties.



Revised Oct. 2, 2013.