Talent Development Centre

How You Can Work in the US as an Independent Contractor


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Frances McCart By Frances McCart,
Vice-President, Business Development at Eagle

Over the past 4 months, many contractors have asked me if they should consider US contract positions, given the Canadian market.  My advice is always to go where the opportunities are and Eagle has begun to see an uptick in US firms being interested in Canadian IT contractors.  Naturally, the next question I’m usually asked is how difficult it is to secure a work permit for the US.  As long as you qualify under the TN-1 status for which you’re applying, it isn’t too much of a challenge.

The TN-1 status is given to Canadian “professionals” seeking a U.S. work visa and whose Canadian and American flags shaking handsoccupation is on the List of Professional Occupations under NAFTA. Canadian professionals involved in the IT field, engineering, and consulting, frequently use the TN-1 status . Generally, in order to qualify for a TN-1 work visa, you’ll need either one of the following:

  • A bachelor’s degree from a U.S. or Canadian college or University; or a foreign degree professionally determined to be the equivalent to a U.S. bachelor’s degree;
  • A 3-year Post Secondary School diploma; or,
  • A 2-year Post Secondary School diploma plus at least 3 years experience.

The most common categories that IT professionals enter the US under are either Computer Systems Analyst or Management Consultant.  You can find the full list here and this link from the Canadian government provides additional information about temporary entry into the US under NAFTA.

Once you understand the process, it is important to work closely with your petitioning firm in ensuring you have all the proper documentation to enter the US and petition with the INS for TN Status.  The most common issues I have seen over the years is a lack of supporting documentation.  When petitioning for TN status, it is critical to have the following documentation in hand PRIOR to going to a port of entry (border crossing or at a Canadian airport that has a US immigration office onsite).

  1. Original copy of your degree/diploma plus any relevant certifications, such as PMP.
  2. If the degree/diploma is not from a recognized post-secondary institution in North America, the INS official will ask that the credentials be accredited by a North American institution.  An example of a comparative education accrediting body is the University of Toronto’s Comparative Education Services Group
  3. Current passport (make sure it does not expire within 6 months of your application)
  4. Updated resume with information reflecting on your resume as to why you are qualified for the role in the US
  5. Reference letters from previous firms (especially for the Management Consulting category)
  6. Petition letter from the firm requesting your services in the US
  7. Copy of your work contract/letter of employment that states your compensation and work that is being done in the US

The TN petition process is a serious process and should not be taken it lightly.  In fact, many Canadians have been turned away for not being prepared. There is a lot of information on the Internet about the TN application process — some good but some bad! We recommend using the links above to start gathering information but, more importantly, consulting with a lawyer whose expertise is in securing TN status.   If you do have any further questions or comments that may help other professionals, please leave your thoughts below and we’d be happy to help guide you in the right direction.

36 thoughts on “How You Can Work in the US as an Independent Contractor

  1. Hello,

    I am in the process of applying for a TN work Visa,
    I have all necessary paperwork. Here is my dilemma,

    I have a 3 year post secondary advanced diploma and just over 2 years work experience out of school. although, I was a full time graphic designer ( with proof ) while in school to bring my total experience up to 4 years.

    are you saying that you do not need 3 years experience if you have a 3 year diploma? and do you know if full time experience while in school / internships count towards said 3 years experience.

    Thank you.

    1. Hi –
      Thank you for your question. It is difficult to answer these type of questions when we do not have all the particulars. Your best option is to consult an immigration lawyer that specializes in this type of situation.
      For more information regarding the categories for TN status, the following sites are a great starting point.

      http://canada.usembassy.gov/visas/doing-business-in-america/tn-visas-professionals-under-nafta.html
      http://canada.usembassy.gov/visas/doing-business-in-america/professions-covered-by-nafta.html

      Good luck.
      Frances

  2. Hello,

    I am applying for a TN visa as a Management Consultant. I know that I technically have to be an Independent Contractor to get the visa approved. Here is my question: do I need to have an established Canadian company (Sole Proprietor) or is that not necessary in order to be able to sign a contract with my company as an independent contractor?

    Thank you.

    1. Hi Liz,

      Based on our past experience, independent contractors who have an incorporated company can work with a US firm to petition them into the US under the appropriate category. It is always best to consultant a US immigration lawyer for further clarification.

      Best of luck,
      Frances

  3. Hi
    My husband is trying to get TN visa under Mgmt Consultant category. He doesn’t have 4 years degree related to the field which he will be consulting so he must provide work expereince letter. Since he was a independent consultant he won’t be able to get work experience letter form his clients. what is the solution?

    1. Hi Ramya,

      Thank you for your question. It has been my experience that having past client reference letters is very important in proving that one has indeed done the work as a management consultant. If your spouse does not have access to past clients (he should go back and ask them to sign off on a letter…he should create it and ask them to agree to sign off), he can always use his past contractual agreements to provide proof that he was indeed working as a management consultant for those firms. An immigration lawyer would probably be able to give the best advice.

      Good luck with obtaining the TN.
      Frances

  4. Hi

    I have worked in the past in US on TN Visa for US company. I was on W2 – payment criteria.

    Now i am getting one contract opportunity from Canadian recruiting firm to work for their client in US. I am incorporated in Canada but not in US. How can i work in US as a contractor. Please advice

    Thanks

    1. Hi,

      Thank you for your question. If you are incorporated in Canada, and working in the US via a Canadian company, you can still work via your incorporation. The important part of entering the US for work is who will be sponsoring your TN work permit into the US, and who will be paying your incorporation? You can work in the US if your are properly sponsored and that corporation should be able to pay your Canadian corporation. Without knowing all the details of your upcoming contract, I cannot comment any further. It is always best to seek the advice of an accountant who understands US and Canada tax laws and how they might apply to your situation. One firm based in Toronto, CA4IT, http://ca4it.com/ is very familiar with cross border tax issues. You may want to speak with them for advice if you do not already have an accounting firm that is familiar with your work situation.

      Best of luck with your upcoming role.

  5. Hi there, I recently applied for the TN visa at Toronto Pearson Airport and was denied and received a “withdrawal of application for admission” listed under section 212 (a) (7) (A) (i) (I).

    I applied under “Management Consultant”, and was denied due to the fact that my employment contract read that I will be an “employee” of the company and the officer said that I will need to hired as an independent contractor if I’m providing services to the employer as a management consultant. The officer said that the employer will need to create a new contract that doesn’t indicate that I will am an employee of the company. The company is a startup that specializes in YouTube marketing, and I was to be hired as a consultant to help them with their new market entry strategy and growth strategy.

    I recently graduated with a Bachelors of Commerce, major in Strategic Management from McGill University, and have interned at various consulting firms and have already received an offer from a consulting firm in Canada, but wanted to work in the U.S. in startups before I start my full-time employment.

    My questions/concerns are:
    1. If I change my contract to an independent contractor agreement, does this mean I will need to have prior experience as a contractor providing consulting services? Will internships in a consulting firm and reference letters be enough?
    2. The officer mentioned that I have two choices, either I completely withdraw and get a 5 year ban or I revise my documents and try again…I don’t fully understand this. Does this mean if I give up on my job opportunity in U.S., I will be banned from the states for 5 years?
    3. Should I even try to reapply for the TN visa with a new contract? Wouldn’t the next officer be even more suspicious that now I’m not an employee but an independent contractor? This shouldn’t matter since this is simply the agreement between you and your “client”?

    I’m really nervous about this because I don’t want this experience to affect my entry to the states when I’ll be working for a consulting firm in Canada next year. All help truly appreciated!

  6. Hi there,

    I’m a photographer and I work as an independent contractor. Currently my work is all within Canada but is contracted out to me from a company in the U.S. I would have even more work opportunities if I could also work in the United States. I don’t see “Photographer” listed on the list of NAFTA professionals but its not a far stretch from “graphic designer” which I’ve also worked as and have a diploma in. What would you do in my situation. Could I apply as a photographer? Thanks in advance.

    Sam

    1. Hi Sam,

      I am not familiar with other categories under NAFTA other than Management Consultant and Computer Systems Analyst. My suggestion is to contact an immigration lawyer in the US to see if you can fit under the “graphic designer”.

      Good luck with your TN work permit pursuits.

      Frances

  7. Hello,
    I’m a Canadian seeking independent contract work in The U.S. under TN (Management Consultant) status. Under TN, am I permitted to work as an independent contractor (vs. Employee) if I have a client who is prepared to engage me? The USCIS website indicates that I require a full-time or part-time job offer, which would not be the case.
    Thanks

  8. I have a US Work Permit as I am married to a US Citizen – can I work as a contractor (Corp to Corp) under my US work permit or am I only allowed to look at full time roles.

    Thanks

    Don

  9. I have an established LLC company in the states to work as independent contractor,
    I am Canadian and i get an agreement from the company I will work with but this agreement not showing the salary as I will detect my payment rate as independent contractor. the company refused to give me an employment offer letter as they are not hiring me. I went to the US border to get the TN Visa they did not accept the agreement letter and they refused to give me the TN. What should I do Next????

  10. Hi There,

    I’m Permanent Residence of Canada, means I’m not Citizens yet of Canada. I have registered business in Canada and wants to operate in US, as i have a customer wants to hire our service. Please Advice…

  11. Hello…

    I am what you call a “Cable Guy”. I have several years experiance in the local canadian market doing cable installs, dealing with clients, etc. Cable installs meaing, installing cable boxes, internet and phone as well as IPTV, home fiber optic networks, etc.

    I am been approached by a few individuals in the US who are looking for experienced cable techs under contract.. I was a little confused that I would not fall under the TN visa. My potential employer/contract guy suggested a 1099. can you shed some light on this category and maybe point me to the right direction on how to obtain?

    Cheers!

    Dave

  12. Hello,

    I know this post is a little old, but I hope someone can still answer my question. I have a bachelor’s degree from an accredited university, but I am looking to work in another field (real estate to be exact) I have to go there and w get my license and work as an Independent contractor. Should I just go in person to one of the port of entry from Canada and ask for a TN visa?

  13. Hi,

    I am applying for the TN visa under Management Consultant. In the independent contractor contract provided by the US employer, is it better to put the compensation as an hourly rate, weekly rate or monthly rate?

  14. A couple questions:

    1) as a management consultant (which is the category I’m apply for TN Visa under), can I say that I’m speaking/presenting at an employee conference, giving training or a seminar? Or must I say I’m just “meeting” with them?

    2) If I work in the USA with TN Visa, do I have to pay US tax? (if so, would I speak to a US or Canadian tax person, lawyer, who exactly?)

  15. Hi
    I am a Systems Analyst having 5+ years of experience in Canada. My credentials evaluated by Toronto Comparative education services and given equalant to Canadian Degree.Now I want to work in US as Systems Analyst. Please advise me the ways to get work in usa. I am a canadian citizen. . Do I need offer from US employer or I can get Visa prior to employment offer. Your kind advise is highly appreciated.Thanks in advance

  16. What are the tax implications? Do Canadian management consultants have to pay taxes to the US? How? Who should we be contacting? What forms do we fill in? Do you have an accountant you would recommend (I’m in Niagara Falls, Canada)

  17. I am already working in the US as a full time employee and I have TN status but I was wondering if I can do part time job as an independant contractor besides my main job or, have my employer switch me to an independant contractor.

  18. Dear Sir

    I am a CPA from MI and a CPA CGA from Canada – I am also an enrolled agent from US – I do US tax consultancy from Canada – One MI based company is proposing to engage me as an outside tax consultant to work on part time basis in their MI based company – I will be paid on an hourly basis – What are my chances to get TN VISA as an tax consultant

    1. Hi Divakar – Thank you for your question. Unfortunately we are unfamiliar with the accounting designation under NAFTA. Your best option is to contact an immigration lawyer for this question.

  19. Hi, I was born in the US, am a Canadian citizen (hold a Canadian passport) and have been a sole proprietor of my own business in Canada for the past 15 years. I have an opportunity to go work in the US and would like to invoice from my business to the American company. Is there anything that is stopping me?

    1. Hi Maggie – thank you for your question and congratulations on the opportunity. I strongly recommend you discuss this situation with your accountant and/or lawyer, who will be much more knowledgeable in this area. Good luck and thanks again for visiting the Talent Development Centre!

  20. I am independent contractor, with a incorporated business in Canada. I have an opportunity to enter into a contract with US firm, however I would be working remotely from Canada. Do I still need a TN or any other Visa?

    Thank you.

    1. Hi,

      If your work is 100% remote and performed in Canada, a TN work permit will not be needed. However, if you do travel to the US for work meetings on a regular basis, a TN may be needed. An immigration lawyer would be able to further guide you in obtaining the correct work permit for the US.

      Frances

  21. I am a Canadian and I am now a licensed California Real Estate Agent (considered a consulting job) and was offered a position with a local California brokerage firm. I am looking for anyone who can give me advice on which visa I should apply for as I don’t see Real Estate Agent under any of the visa categories.

    1. Thank you for your email. We do not have any knowledge capital to share around applicable VISAs for real estate agents. The best route for you to take is to contact a lawyer that is specialized in TN visa applications.

      Good luck with the visa process.

  22. HI,

    I’m a graphic designer that has a BFA. I was wondering if I can talk a 6+ month full-time contract position in America using a TN visa?

    best,
    louise

    1. Hi Louise, because we’re not well versed in your area of expertise, we’re unable to give advice about if you’d qualify for a TN. I would strongly recommend you consult with an immigration lawyer.

  23. Hello – can I gain a management consultant visa permit while living in Vancouver Canada working remote from Canada for a USA company, and travel to the US via seattle land border to attend meetings 2-4 times a month?

    Is a mgnt consultant visa needed for this?

  24. I am 64, educated in the UK. 5 year apprenticeship with no options of a degree program back in those days. You had to be a superstar to even get an offer for university, in th UK, unlike today.
    I have worked in the aerospace industry for 46 years and for the past 28 years as a manufacturing engineer on turbine engines parts, blades, vanes, rings,NVG etc..
    I ended up in Arizona for 11 years (hb-1) on to Mexico and retired as I watch a corporation demolish a completely good business.
    A lot of this work is now up for grabs and I have been contacted on many occasions by US companies that know my capabilities, here in Canada, for me to go back to the US and help them. Yet after being in the green card system for 10 years and never accepted and now being turned down because I do not have a degree. Does 28 years not account for anything these Days??

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