Interesting question that I don’t usually field. A fella asked about TN visas in a legal request board. I thought I would include his question, and my answer, here:

I am a Canadian citizen currently in the US on a TN Visa. I have been approached by an Indian software company to conduct business development, sales activities on their behalf. I am wondering if I am legally allowed to do this on a TN visa. Also i want to set up my own business can I do so, and and what is the criteria for doing this.

TN’s are designed for NAFTA countries (primarily Canada, it seems…but it could be because I, too, am in DC, so we see a lot more Canadian TN’s than from Mexico). It allows professionals from NAFTA countries to freely work and conduct their trade, on a temporary basis, in any NAFTA country. At least, that was the idea. In reality, it acts like a defacto H visa. Generally, to come over here on a TN, you need to have a sponsoring employer. So…who sponsored you? What happened?

Generally, the requirements for TN are:

  • Applicant is a citizen of Canada or Mexico;
  • Profession is on the NAFTA list;
  • Position in the United States requires a NAFTA professional;
  • Applicant will work in a prearranged full-time or part-time job for an employer (see Required Documentation).
  • Self employment is not permitted;
  • Applicant has the qualifications, meeting the specific requirements, education, and/or experience, of the profession.

As a rule, a TN visa holder ought not to be looking to open a business in the US. Nothing against entrepreneurial spirit and all, but because TN’s are by nature temporary, you open the door to all sorts of problems should your business happen to be successful (and don’t fall into the boat of those that suggest you can bootstrap yourself — that is, start a business then sponsor yourself for an E or H visa. Down that path leads to pain and creative lawyering). Note that you cannot sponsor yourself for a TN, either (see above list of criteria for TN visas). However, if you are here doing work for the company that brought you in via the TN visa, there is nothing to prevent you from owing an interest in a C corp. Tricky business though (no pun, of course), so talk to us first.

But…bottom line…can it be done? Absolutely! Can you work for another company when you entered on a TN for a different purpose? Sure..come speak with us and we can help. We’re in Fairfax/DC, so it’s not an issue to chat.

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