Monday Morning Consultant … Feb 7th, 2011 (TN-1 Edition)

As a “visible minority” North American tech consultant, there is almost nothing as nerve racking as going to the border to apply for a work permit (TN-1/L or H1-B visa). At least, if you’re applying for the L and H1-B, you have fair warning whether you will get through or not, however with the TN-1 visa, there is no guarantee on anything, simple because there is no true criteria, there are only mistakes that you have to avoid like the plague.

For instance, when crossing the border, I’m now trained to answer in highly monosyllabic answers, regardless of how rude it might come across. This is because US border officials are trained to treat everyone like a criminal regardless of intent. They are not your friends, it is not mandated that you have to be polite to them. All you have to do is answer the questions they pose factually. Additional facts/clarifications that you provide will only provoke more questions and more digging into your record.

When I apply for a TN-1 visa, I have a mental checklist that I go through when answering questions

  1. I don’t want to live in the US: Period!!!
    I ensure that the officer I meet get this message loud and clear, when they ask the nature of my business and how long I am going to be in the US and if I have any intent to stay. Indicating anything but an intense desire to leave the USA, once your business is done will elicit questions and more questions.
  2. I always have copies of degrees and transcripts.
    Yet another fail point for cross border consultants. LAck of supporting documentation, even something from 20 years ago can be a fail point. These officers will use any reason they can to deny your visa – no matter what the official word is.
  3. I review my answers to indicate the right job classification
    I can’t  state, how important that using the correct Job Title is to your application. Indicating a management consultant when you are a Systems Analyst is surely a great way to get rejected. I always ensure that my TN1 Letter clearly shows the NAFTA Occupation I’m are applying under and how I qualify for this.
  4. Understand that the TN-1 visa is the most subjective of all visa approvals.
    • Dress professionally – Can’t stress this enough – ensure you look like a consultant
    • Be respectful and do not lose your temper – they will make jokes at you, ask why they should let you take an American’s job (as if!!)
    • Don’t get fed up (even if you are required to wait – a long time at the border).
    • Ensure that you allow 3 hours for the process, even if you get to the border at 5am (opening time in Pearson Int’l – Toronto)
    • Have a credit card – nothing is worse that having to go outside, simply because you can’t pay by CC
    • Remember : It is up to the discretion of the Immigration Officer whether you qualify – do not give them reasons to deny you.

I’m on my 4th TN-1 visa across the years and yet I still get nervous because of the subjectivity of this visa. The good thing about the TN-1, is that it is renewable forever and there is no quota (unlike H1-B).

Yet another wrinkle they don’t tell you about in business school in Canada. This is a reality of work in Canada, most times, the better paying jobs with travel will be in the US.

A good article to look at :

About Rishiray

Rishi Sankar is a Cloud HRMS Project Manager/ Solution Architect. Over the past 15+ years, he has managed to combine his overwhelming wanderlust with a desire to stay employed, resulting in continuing stints with 3 major consulting firms (IBM, Deloitte, Accenture). He documents his adventures around the world on "Ah Trini Travelogue" with pictures and stories from the road/tuk-tuk/camel/rickshaw. You can follow him on Twitter at @rishiray and on Facebook at "Ah Trini Travelogue . He doesn't like Chicken Curry but loves Curry Chicken and is always trying to find the perfect Trinidadian roti on the road. He also doesn't like cheese and kittens ... and definitely not together. E-mail from his blog is appreciated like a 35 yr old Balvenie at

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