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The TN Economist Category

By September 29, 2023TN Visa
Economist Category

The TN visa, originally created through NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement), is one of the most popular options for nationals of Canada and Mexico to live and work in the United States. This is for good reason: the application process is relatively simple and straightforward, it can provide up to three years of status and can be renewed indefinitely, and it places minimal obligations on the employer (see our blog post on how the TN visa does not require sponsorship here, and our video on this topic here).

However, the TN visa is more challenging to receive for certain professions, including the Economist category. In this blog post, we will consider why this is, and offer several tips to assist those who are navigating the TN Economist professional category.

Background on the TN Visa

A TN visa can be issued to a national of Canada for up to three years, and to a national of Mexico for up to four years. Upon entry to the US, both Canadians and Mexicans are usually granted a period of authorized stay for three years.

As detailed in our previous post here, the TN visa is only available for those coming to the United States to work in specific professions, which are listed in the TN regulations here. The applicant must satisfy the qualification requirements that apply to the specific profession that the applicant is coming to the U.S. to practice.

The TN Economist Category

Those applying for a TN visa in the Economist category must have a baccalaureate or licenciatura degree in Economics or a field closely related to Economics. There is no option to qualify for a TN visa in the Economist category based on experience alone. As with any TN category, those applying in the Economist category must also show that they have an offer from a U.S. employer to work as an Economist.

Like the management consultant job category (covered in more detail here), the Economist category is closely scrutinized by border officers and is particularly challenging.

Why the TN Economist Category is Particularly Challenging

The TN Economist category became particularly challenging in 2017. In that year, the U.S. government issued guidance that instructed officers to narrowly interpret who qualifies for the Economist job category.

Specifically, the guidance said that those applying for a TN visa in the Economist category cannot primarily perform the job duties of financial analysts, market research analysts, and marketing specialists. Instead, the applicant must be applying to come to the United States to narrowly perform the job duties that the government thinks an Economist performs.

What job duties does the government think an Economist performs?

In order to determine how the government defines a job and its job duties, it is helpful to first look at two publications produced by the U.S. government that specifically define job categories and their corresponding duties: the Occupational Outlook Handbook and O*Net. Additionally, USCIS has issued guidance that sheds light on what it thinks an Economist does.

These resources suggest that Economists should specialize in either microeconomics or macroeconomics – meaning that they should either study the impact of supply and demand on the behavior of individuals or firms, or they should study the impact of economic indicators on broader sectors of the economy. Their job duties should include conducting research, preparing reports, or developing plans to address economic problems related to either the production and distribution of goods, or monetary and fiscal policy. Economists can provide economic analysis to various fields, from international trade and development to health and education.

What job duties does the government say a TN Economist should not perform?

The government specifically states that someone pursuing a TN visa in the Economist category should not be coming to the U.S. to work as a financial analyst, market research analyst, or marketing specialist.

How does the government define these roles?

Financial Analysts.

The government defines the job duties of financial analysts as primarily conducting quantitative analyses of information affecting investment programs of either public or private institutions. In other words, their job is to find opportunities to commit money for the purpose of generating profits. The job includes either buy-side or sell-side financial analysts. These job duties fall outside the scope of what the government believes a TN Economist should primarily be coming to the U.S. to do.

Market Research Analysts and Marketing Specialists.

The government defines the job duties of Market Research Analysts and Marketing Specialists as gathering and analyzing data – such as consumer demographics and buying habits – in order to help a company market its products or services. They might also research competitors’ pricing and marketing methods, and advise on new markets and opportunities. Market research analysts and marketing specialists might also develop advertising materials, such as brochures or commercials. Again, these job duties fall outside the scope of what USCIS believes an Economist on a TN visa should primarily be doing.

Navigating the Restrictions on the TN Economist Category

If you have been offered TN employment as an Economist, work with your employer to ensure that your job duties are closely aligned with those that the government says are acceptable (again, referring to the Occupational Outlook Handbook and other government resources). While it may be permissible for a minority of your time to be spent on job duties that the government does not associate with Economists, this should be kept to a minimum.

If your job duties must fall outside those that the government thinks an Economist performs, it could be worthwhile to consider alternative TN categories, including the Management Consultant category. While the Management Consultant category raises its own challenges (as detailed here), if used properly it can permit a broad range of job duties and activities.

Finally, if the job duties that you would be performing in the U.S. seem to fall outside any of the TN professional categories, it could be worthwhile to consider other visas options, such as the H-1B visa, the L-1 visa, or the O-1 visa.

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