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TN Visa Application Tips when the Degree Does Not Match the Occupational Category

By December 19, 2023TN Visa

When applying for a TN visa, a common reason for denial is that the applicant’s degree is not the same as the TN occupational category they are applying for. For example, it would be difficult for someone with an undergraduate degree in biology to receive a TN visa as an accountant, even if the applicant did complete extensive coursework in accounting. However, it is not impossible to be approved with a related degree or even related coursework. In this post, we will discuss a few tips that a TN applicant can use to improve their chances of being approved when their degree does not match the occupational category.

The TN Education Requirement

When applying for a TN visa, one of the first steps is to determine how you qualify for the visa by look at the TN regulations (8 CFR 214.6). Each occupational category has a specific qualification requirement, and this is typically based on education or experience.

For example, to qualify as an accountant, you would need either a baccalaureate or licenciatura degree, or a professional license. You cannot qualify as an accountant with experience. In other words, someone with a degree in biology will not be able to qualify for a TN visa as an accountant simply because they have worked as an accountant for the past 20 years.

A graphic designer, on the other hand, can qualify if they have a degree or a post-secondary diploma or certificate and three years of experience. A management consultant can qualify based on experience alone.

If you are qualifying for the TN visa based on your education, a common question that arises is whether the diploma needs to be in the field you are applying to work in. For example, if someone is applying for a TN visa to work as an accountant and they don’t have a professional license, they must have a baccalaureate or licenciatura degree. Clearly someone with a degree in accounting can qualify, but what if their degree is in economics? Or biology?

Tips when the degree does not match the TN occupation

When your degree is in a field that is not related to the TN occupation – for example, someone applying to work as an accountant based on their degree in biology – there is a very high likelihood of denial. Typically, such an applicant would be wise to consider whether the job might be framed within another TN occupational category that they might more feasible qualify under – such as a management consultant role that is supported by their work experience. They might also consider other visa options, including the H-1B or O-1 visa, for example.

If they choose to move forward with the TN using a degree in an unrelated field, the tips described below might not be enough to overcome a denial, but they are likely to improve the chances of an approval.

When the degree is in a related field – someone applying to work as an accountant based on a degree in math, economics, or commerce, for example – there is a higher likelihood of approval. However, there are still steps that the applicant can take to improve their chances of being approved.

Tip 1: Use your transcript.

If the TN visa applicant completed coursework in the field of the TN occupation – to continue with our example, this would include courses in accounting – the applicant should include an original or certified copy of their transcript with their TN application, and emphasize in the employer letter those courses that are aligned with the TN occupation. The application can highlight if the courses built upon each other and increased in difficulty – this would be more persuasive than if the courses were simply foundational.

Tip 2: Highlight independent research or a thesis you completed.

The application can highlight if the applicant completed independent research in a field related to the TN occupation. A thesis or other independent research in the field of accounting, for example, can make an accountant’s TN application more persuasive if they have a general degree in commerce.

Tip 3: Include a letter from a professor.

Consider including a letter from a professor at your university who can speak to the nature of your coursework and degree, and how it prepared you to practice the field in question. Continuing with our example, if someone applying for a TN visa to be an accountant has a generic Bachelor of Commerce degree but completed a number of finance courses, a letter from a professor who taught those courses and can speak to how they prepare students for a career in accounting could be persuasive.

Tip 4: Read and quote from the Occupational Outlook Handbook

Tip 4: Use the Occupational Outlook Handbook (or “OOH”) to your advantage. The OOH is published by the U.S. Department of Labor and represents the job duties and job requirements that the U.S. government (including border officers) think someone in a given occupation does. Many times, the OOH will state that the required background for a given occupation is a degree in the field of that occupation, or “in a related field.” For example, under the “How to Become One” tab for Accountants, the OOH states “Accountants and auditors typically need at least a bachelor’s degree in accounting or a related field to enter the occupation.” If you are applying to be an accountant and have a degree in a field related to accounting, consider quoting this language in your employer letter.

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