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Navigating The Path South: Options For Canadians To Migrate To The United States

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A founding partner of Abramovich & Tchern, Ksenia started her legal career at one of Canada’s top immigration firms, where she operated her own immigration law practice, with a focus on corporate and individual immigration applications.
an image of a man working at a desk with a small united states flag, a passport, and two stamps.

For Canadians eyeing the opportunity to work, invest, or open a business south of their border, the U.S. offers several pathways tailored to accommodate professionals, entrepreneurs, and corporate transferees. From the professional freedoms facilitated by the TN visa to the substantial investment opportunities opened by the E2 visa, the U.S. immigration system is structured to foster economic exchange and professional growth. Let’s dive into the specifics of TN, E1, E2, and L1 visas, outlining their requirements, benefits, and limitations to provide a roadmap for Canadians looking to make their American dream a reality.

TN VISA: The Professional’s Gateway

Under the umbrella of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), the TN visa stands as a testament to the economic synergy between the U.S. and Canada. Designed specifically for Canadian professionals, this visa category enables engineers, nurses, computer scientists, and more to engage in prearranged business activities on American soil.

Requirements For a TN Visa: 

  • Canadian citizenship.
  • A job offer from a U.S. employer in a profession that qualifies under the regulations.
  • Relevant qualifications for the position (typically a bachelor’s degree or higher).

Length of Visa: up to three (3) years, extensions permitted.

Example: A Canadian software engineer with a job offer from a Silicon Valley tech giant can apply for a TN visa, presenting their offer letter, credentials, and proof of Canadian citizenship at a U.S. port of entry for immediate processing and entry into the U.S.

Pro Tip: If making the application at one of the U.S. land border points of entry, confirm whether an appointment is required before going. 

E1 Visa: Trading Across Borders

The E1 Treaty Trader visa facilitates trade of a substantial nature directly between Canada and the U.S., offering a niche but powerful option for business owners and key employees involved in significant trade operations.

Requirements For an E1 Visa: 

  • The applicant must be a national of a treaty country (Canada).
  • The company for which the applicant is coming to the U. S. must have the treaty country’s nationality.
  • The trade must be substantial, with more than 50% of the total volume of international trade conducted between the U.S. and the Canadian company.
  • The applicant must be employed in a supervisory or executive capacity or possess highly specialized skills essential to the firm’s operation.

Length of Visa: five (5) years, extensions permitted.

Example: A Canadian wine exporter with more than half of their business conducted with U.S. companies can leverage the E1 visa to manage stateside operations, bringing over essential personnel to ensure the smooth running of cross-border trade.

Pro Tip: E1 visa holders can renew their status indefinitely in two-year increments, as long as their trade activities continue to meet the substantial and ongoing criteria.

E2 Visa: Investing In The American Economy

For Canadians ready to invest a significant amount of capital in a U.S. business, the E2 Treaty Investor visa offers a path to not only enter and work within the U.S. but also to bring over essential employees and family members.

Requirements for an E2 Visa:

  • The investor must be a national of a treaty country (Canada).
  • The investment must be substantial, at risk, and in a bona fide enterprise.
  • The investor must have control of the funds, and the investment must be actively in the process of investing or the enterprise must be operational.
  • Business must not be marginal – i.e. must have the capacity, present or future, to generate significantly more income than just enough to provide a minimal living for the investor and their family.
  • The investor must be coming to the U.S. to develop and direct the enterprise.

Length of Visa: five (5) years, extensions permitted.

Example: Consider a Canadian entrepreneur who decides to open a chain of sustainable cafes in the U.S. With a hefty investment into this new venture, the entrepreneur qualifies for an E2 visa, paving the way for their move to the U.S. to oversee the business’s growth and operations.

Pro Tip: There’s no set minimum investment figure, but the investment must be substantial relative to the total cost of purchasing or creating the business. Bu

L1 Visa: The Corporate Bridge

The L1 visa serves as a bridge for multinational companies to transfer key personnel to their U.S. operations, ideal for executives, managers, or employees with specialized knowledge.

Requirements for an L1 Visa:

  • The applicant must have been employed for at least one continuous year within the past three years by the overseas affiliate, parent, subsidiary, or branch of the U.S. company.
  • The job in the U.S. must be in an executive or managerial position (L1A) or in a position requiring specialized knowledge (L1B).
  • The U.S. employer must have a qualifying relationship with the foreign company and must be doing business as an employer in the U.S. and in at least one other country.

Length of Visa: L1A’s have a maximum duration of seven (7) years, and L1B’s have a maximum duration of five (5) years

Example: A Canadian tech company planning to expand its operations into the U.S. can use the L1 visa to transfer its CEO (L1A) and a lead developer with proprietary knowledge of the company’s technology (L1B) to the U.S. to spearhead the expansion.

Pro Tip: the L1A visa is a potential path towards permanent residence, as the applicant can submit an application under the 1st Preference Employment Based (EB1) multinational manager or executive pathway once the US company has been operating for a minimum of one (1) year.

Navigating the U.S. Immigration System

Unlock your path to the U.S. with our expert guidance. The journey through U.S. visa applications is paved with detailed requirements and procedural nuances unique to each pathway. Achieving success demands meticulous preparation, an in-depth understanding of the eligibility criteria, and often, the insight of a seasoned immigration attorney. Let us be your guide in navigating this complex landscape. Contact us today to develop a personalized strategy for your move to the U.S., ensuring your journey is not just a dream but a reality in the making. 

Ksenia Tchern

A founding partner of Abramovich & Tchern, Ksenia started her legal career at one of Canada’s top immigration firms, where she operated her own immigration law practice, with a focus on corporate and individual immigration applications.