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Obtaining a Visa to Work Across the Border

By Steve Sherman, LL.B, CPA

You may have clients who wish to temporarily transfer themselves or their employees to the U.S. The good news is that, under NAFTA, obtaining a Temporary Business Visa has become much easier than in the past. No need to obtain a Job Offer Validation. Under current legislation, many exemptions have been created. If the new position can be slotted into the right category, just a little extra planning will produce a quick visa at a modest cost.

The relevant visa categories are: 1) B-1 Temporary Business Visitor; 2) H-1B Professionals (e.g. accountants, architects, engineers, etc.; 3) TN (Trade NAFTA) Professionals; 4) E-1 NAFTA Treaty Trade (import/export); 5) E-2 Investor. In many situations, it is possible to apply right at the port of entry (paperwork and application fee in hand). In those cases, the entire process can be completed in less than a week. For more complicated applications, such as Exchange Visitors, there are other options. However, it is advantageous to send all paperwork to the U.S. Consulate for pre-approval.

The term "Temporary" can have various definitions. A one-year visa is simple to procure and three-five year visas are common. Certain visas such as E-1 and E-2 permit indefinite stay. Add the fact that most visas can be renewed several times and it is clear that NAFTA is truly facilitating the movement of goods, services, investment and personnel. Note: the number of renewals permitted is defined by the initial exemption category, so those first decisions are critical!

It is critical that the specific exemption category be chosen carefully to avoid the embarrassment of having an executive refused at the border when a little paperwork could have paved the way. Worst-case scenario - the refusal is officially recorded and all future attempts to cross the border are jeopardised.

This newsletter is provided as a service to clients and friends of the firm. Professional advice should be sought prior to applying these rules to a specific situation.