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USCIS defines “economist” for NAFTA TN visa applicants

The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) creates opportunities for bilateral trade between the United States, Canada and Mexico. Under this agreement, the U.S. government developed what is known as the TN visa—a nonimmigrant visa for qualifying professionals from Mexico and Canada to work in the United States for up to three years.

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) outlines the professions eligible for the TN visa, grouped into three categories:

  • Medical professionals
  • Scientists
  • Teachers
  • General

Under the General category, the USCIS lists specific professions that qualify. Among these is the profession of economist.

Until recently, there has been no precise definition for what constitutes an economist. The eligibility criteria indicated that such an applicant must have a baccalaureate or licenciatura degree, but it did not provide details on qualifying job duties. Consequently, USCIS officers trying to adjudicate applications were left to subjectively determine whether a given individual working in the financial sector would indeed be considered an economist according to the original intent of the agreement.

However, the USCIS has recently released more detailed guidelines on the types of professionals that do and don’t fall into the category of economist. The revised policy is summarized below:

  • It is an individual’s primary work activity—not their job title—which determines whether they are an economist.
  • A qualifying economist cannot have a primary work activity that is associated with other professions. It specifically excludes financial analysts, market research analysts and marketing specialists from qualification.
  • An economist may specialize in macro- or microeconomics or a more specific focus area within one of these categories, such as labor or international trade.
  • An economist’s job responsibilities may include researching, writing reports or developing plans that tackle economic issues.

If you have questions about the TN visa, and whether you qualify, talk to an experienced immigration attorney about your options.

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