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Navigating the TN Management Consultant Category

two consultants speaking with each other

The Management Consultant category is one of the few TN professional categories in the TN regulations that does not require a degree – it is available to applicants based on professional experience alone. Maybe for this reason, the Management Consultant category is also one of the most challenging, resulting in relatively high rates of denial.

Background

The TN visa is one of the most popular visa options for Canadians and Mexicans who want to work in the United States in one of several professions that are specifically listed in the TN regulations. As explained here, each profession requires that the applicant possess specific educational or professional qualifications.

The Management Consultant job category is special in that it offers three options for the applicant to qualify: the applicant can have either 1) a baccalaureate degree, or 2) five years of experience as a management consultant, or 3) five years of experience in a field of specialty related to the consulting agreement.

Management Consultant Scenarios

At least in part because the Management Consultant category is one of the few options for those who do not have a degree, government officials closely scrutinize TN Management Consultant applications. Some scenarios, though, are more likely to be approved than others.

Scenario 1: The simplest and most straightforward scenario is if you’re applying for a TN visa in order to work at a management consulting firm in the US and to provide services to the firm’s clients (for example, a consultant at Boston Consulting Group in Canada applies for a TN visa to work at Bain in New York). This type of application is fairly straightforward and not especially risky.

Scenario 2: However, the process gets much trickier (and has a much higher chance of denial) if the applicant applies for a TN visa in the Management Consultant category in order to be employed at a company that is not a management consulting firm, and to provide consulting services directly to that company (rather than to its clients). For example, a Canadian expert in solar energy receives a job offer from a solar panel company in the U.S. that wants her to come to the US to advise it on how to improve its products and services.

To understand how to navigate this kind of a scenario, it is important to understand the government’s policy, and how best to navigate it.

The Government’s Position on the TN Management Consultant Category

In 1990, the U.S. government issued a memo that restricted the Management Consultant TN category. The government’s concern was that people were coming to the US with the title of Management Consultant, but were instead filling permanent positions at companies that actually had little to do with consulting.

The memo instructed officers to make sure that those applying for a TN visa as a Management Consultant would not be filling a permanent position or replacing someone in an existing position. Instead, the memo said, an applicant should be coming to the US as an outside consultant to the business in order to help the address a specific problem or need. The government calls this a “supernumerary” position. The exception to this rule is if the applicant is coming to the US to work at a management consulting firm – in those cases, it is acceptable for them to temporarily fill a permanent position.

Navigating the TN Management Consultant Risks

There are several steps that applicants in the TN Management Consultant category might do to improve their chances of being approved.

First, the employer should specifically define what problem or issue the consultant will help it address. Answering this question helps to focus the rest of the application by highlighting both how the consultant is qualified to address the problem, and what specific services the consultant will provide in order to address it. This helps to make it clear that the role is “supernumerary” – in other words, that the role is temporary and intended to address a specific problem or issue that the employer is experiencing.

Second, it is important to explain how the consultant will address the company’s problem or issue while keeping in mind how the government defines a management consultant’s job duties. The government shares what it considers to be typical job duties in the Dept of Labor’s Occupational Outlook Handbook. For example, in the Occupational Outlook Handbook the government says that management consultants, among other things, gather information about the problem to be solved, develop solutions or alternative practices, make recommendations to management, and confer with managers to make sure their recommendations are working. The more the applicant’s job duties while on the TN visa are aligned with those listed in the Occupational Outlook Handbook, the more likely a government officer will understand why the Management Consultant category is an appropriate fit.

Third, it is important that the applicant make sure that they satisfy the professional or educational requirement. As mentioned above, the Management Consultant category requires that the applicant have one of the following: 1) a baccalaureate degree in a field closely related to management consulting, 2) five years of experience as a management consultant, or 3) five years of experience in a field of specialty that is related to the consulting agreement. To continue with our earlier example, if the applicant wants to come to the US on a TN visa in order to advise a solar company on its products and services, they might qualify by showing that they have been working in the solar energy field for at least five years. To qualify based on experience in a field of specialty, it is important to clearly document the experience with detailed letters from former employers or clients.

Finally, the applicant should make it clear to the government that the position is truly that of an outside consultant who will be targeting a specific problem or issue that the employer is facing. This helps to make it clear that the role is “supernumerary” – and helps to avoid the risk that the applicant will be perceived as filling a permanent position at the company. Specific ways to do this can include having a consulting agreement that is signed by the applicant and the company that specifically defines what services the applicant will provide, and the terms of the arrangement. The consulting agreement should clearly show the applicant’s expertise in the specific field of specialty and should explicitly outline the scope and timeline of the project in order to demonstrate that it is truly a temporary consulting role. Along these same lines, it may be beneficial to opt for an hourly rate with an expected number of hours defined in the application, rather than a set salary.

Conclusion

Though it is one of the more complex TN visa applications, receiving a TN visa as a Management Consultant to work at a company that is not a management consulting firm is not uncommon, and the odds of receiving an approval increase if both the employer and applicant are thoughtful and deliberate about the role.

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