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Can I qualify for a TN based on my work experience?

By October 5, 2023TN Visa
experienced workers speaking to each other

TN Visa is a great visa option for Canadian and Mexican nationals as it does not require the dreaded company sponsorship that many other visas require.  In fact, the two biggest requirements are that you are one of the professions listed under the USMCA agreement (and have the necessary qualifications), and that you have a job offer from a company.

I don’t have a degree, can I use my experience instead to qualify for a TN Visa?

This is a common question we get from potential clients: I have 12 years of experience and no Bachelor’s degree. Does that mean that my experience is equal to a Bachelor’s degree? Can I qualify for a TN based on this experience only?

This is a common misconception and the answer to this question is no, or it depends which TN category you would be applying under. Many people confuse the possibility to qualify based on work experience only with the H-1B visa that allows in certain scenarios  to qualify if you don’t have a degree, but have work experience only. In certain scenarios, USCIS can consider 3 years of work experience to be equivalent to 1 year of education, so it means if you have 12 years of experience, you could potentially qualify for an H-1B visa without having a Bachelor’s degree. This however is a specific rule for the for the H-1B visas only and this equivalency rule does not apply to TN visas.

To qualify for a TN visa , the TN applicant has to meet the minimum education requirements or credentials for the particular TN position. You can find list of all TN positions and the guidance on what qualifications are accepted for each position in the Appendix 2 of Annex 16.A.2 of Chapter 16 of USMCA.

If a particular TN occupation indicates that a specific degree is required (e.g. the occupation indicates that a Bachelor’s or Licenciatura degree is required), you cannot qualify if you have work experience only or some sort of mix of post-secondary education (but not the education required for the profession – here Bachelor’s or Licenciatura degree) and experience.

Example 1, Economist

The TN regulations specify that for the Economist category, the TN applicant can qualify based on one of the following: a Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree.

To qualify under this TN profession, you would only qualify for a TN visa if you either had a Bachelor’s or Licenciatura degree in a relevant field. Even if you had 30+ years of work experience in the industry, it would not be sufficient to qualify for a TN visa, as the Regulations specifically require either a Bachelor’s or Licenciatura degree. As mentioned above, unlike in the H-1B scenario, you cannot use the general equivalency unless work experience is specifically permitted under the TN regulations.

Example 2, Management Consultant

The TN regulations specify that for Management Consultant, the TN applicant can qualify based on one of the following: Bachelor’s degree, Licenciatura degree, or 5 years of experience as a Management Consultant, or 5 years of experience in the field of specialty related to the consulting agreement.

This is a different scenario than the first example. For the Management Consultant Category, the regulations specifically allow that the TN applicant can qualify based on work experience only. For this TN position, if you have 5 years of relevant work experience, you could qualify even if you have no degree at all.

Example 3, Technical Publications Writer

For the Technical Publications Writer, the TN applicant can qualify based on one of the following: Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree; or Post- Secondary Diploma or Post-Secondary Certificate, and three years of experience. See more about the Technical Publications Writer TN category when you click here.

This is again a different scenario than the first example, as this category specifically allows the applicants to qualify based on work experience (if they have s post-secondary diploma/certificate). Here, if you have 3 years of relevant work experience and a Post-Secondary diploma/certificate, you could qualify under this TN position.

To sum up, there are some TN categories under which you could qualify even if you don’t have a degree, but those categories will specifically list that they allow qualifications based on work experience. If a particular TN category indicates that a degree is required, you cannot substitute that with your work experience.

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