USCIS Announces Restrictions on TN Economist Status

January 26, 2018

By Immigration Group

This article was prepared with the assistance of ABIL, the Alliance of Business Immigration Lawyers, of which Laura Danielson is an active member.

NAFTA GraphicU.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) recently published policy guidance on the specific work activities its officers should consider when determining whether an individual qualifies for Trade NAFTA (TN) nonimmigrant status as an economist. The policy guidance states that financial analysts, marketing analysts and market research analysts are not eligible for classification as a TN economist.

North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) TN nonimmigrant status allows qualified Canadian and Mexican citizens to temporarily enter the United States to engage in specific professional activities, including the occupation of economist. The agreement, however, does not define the term “economist,” which USCIS said has resulted in inconsistent decisions about whether certain analysts and financial professionals qualify for TN status as economists.

USCIS said the new policy is consistent with the Department of Labor’s (DOL’s) Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) system. DOL defines economists as people who conduct research, prepare reports or formulate plans to address economic problems related to the production and distribution of goods and services or monetary and fiscal policy. Economists may collect and process economic and statistical data using sampling techniques and econometric methods. The definition specifically excludes market research and marketing analyst occupations, USCIS said.

With respect to the occupation of financial analyst, USCIS said it recognizes that economists and financial analysts are related occupations and that there may occasionally be some similarity in the activities of these two occupational categories. As differentiated from economists, however, financial analysts “primarily conduct quantitative analyses of information affecting investment programs of public or private institutions,” USCIS said. Recognizing that these types of positions are not the same, the SOC separates these occupations into two categories. Therefore, to be consistent with the SOC, USCIS said it is clarifying that economists and financial analysts are two separate occupations for the purposes of qualifying for TN nonimmigrant status pursuant to NAFTA.

Some attorneys warn that TN economists—even those who were previously approved—could experience increased scrutiny when returning to the United States. Strategies may include arguing that a position meets the definition of an economist, amending the position description, avoiding international travel or considering nonimmigrant alternatives. Please contact your Fredrikson & Byron attorney for advice in specific situations.

Read the USCIS policy memo.