Yes, Canadian and Mexican startup founders can qualify for the TN nonimmigrant visa! But not all startup founders qualify. In this article, we’ll review whether the TN visa is a viable option for you.
TN Visa Basics
The TN exists because of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which established economic and trade relationships between the U.S., Canada, and Mexico.
For many Canadian and Mexican professionals, the TN visa is an easy choice. The TN can be renewed indefinitely, and Canadians can apply directly at the border. As an added perk, spouses of TN visa holders get U.S. work authorization.
A potential downside with the TN is that it is only available to individuals with job offers in select occupations.
The TN Visa for Startup Founders
The good news: you can qualify for the TN as a startup founder!
The bad news: not all startup founders qualify for the TN.
Being a startup founder does not automatically qualify you for a TN visa. As a founder interested in the TN, you'll want to consider the following:
- Employer-employee relationship: Even though you are your company's founder, you'll have to differentiate between your company and yourself in the visa application. To establish an employer-employee relationship, you'll need to show that you own less than 50% of your company's shares or establish a Board of Directors.
- TN occupations: To get a TN, you must work in one of the TN-approved occupations. Unfortunately, no executive or C-Suite level roles qualify for the TN. However, the TN works for some startup founders. For example, if you are a nutritionist and the founder of a health-tech startup, you could work for your startup under the nutritionist occupation. Or, as a graphic designer, you could work for your graphic design company under the graphic designer occupation.
- TN occupation-specific requirement: Requirements vary between different occupations. For example, you will need a baccalaureate or Licenciatura degree to work on a TN under the economist occupation. To work as a psychologist, you'll need a state/provincial license or a Licenciatura degree.
Alternative Visas for Startup Founders
If you want to work at your startup as CEO or in another role that is not aligned with an approved TN occupation, there are other visa options to consider!
- The O-1A visa for individuals with extraordinary ability: Flexible criteria and indefinite extensions make the O-1 visa favorite among startup founders.
- The L-1 visa for executive and manager transfers: If you already work for a foreign branch of your startup, you may be able to get an L-1 visa to launch the U.S. office.
- The H-1B visa for specialty occupation workers: Startup founders can work on the H-1B visa. If you already work on an H-1B at another company, consider transferring to your startup.
- The E-2 visa for investors: Did you know you can get a visa by investing in your U.S. startup? Foreign nationals from specific treaty countries can qualify for the E-2 by investing in a U.S. company.
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