U.S. Travel Visas

Four categories of businesspeople can enter the U.S. temporarily under The North American Free Trade Agreement.

Business visitors (B-1)

You can qualify for a B-1 visa if you are entering the U.S. to engage in research and design, growth, manufacturing and production, marketing, sales, distribution, after-sales service, and general service.

You only qualify if your primary place of business and accrual of profits are outside the U.S., and the scope of business activity is international.

To apply, you need proof of Canadian citizenship and a letter outlining the purpose of your trip. The letter should include your itinerary, a list of contacts you plan to visit and a statement that your primary source of income is outside the U.S.

Under a B-1, you can be refused entry if you intend to provide services or products directly. Sales reps and agents can take orders or negotiate contracts, but they aren’t authorized to deliver goods.

Professionals (TN)

Professional visas cover training functions, conducting seminars and general activities.

You need to ensure that your profession is among the 63 listed under NAFTA, and that you meet the education requirements. You also need to have pre-arranged employment or a contractual agreement with a business or organization located in the U.S.

You can apply for professional visas at major border crossings or airports. Bring with you your passport, a letter from your employer or a signed contract.

Intra-company transferees (L-1)

Intra-company transferees are individuals employed by a firm to perform managerial or executive functions, or functions requiring specialized knowledge, who are being transferred to a parent branch, subsidiary or affiliate branch in the U.S.

In these cases, transferees can be paid either by the Canadian parent company or by the U.S. subsidiary.

L-1 visas are typically issued for three years, and spouses of L-1 holders can work in the U.S. Extensions for executives and managers can be issued for up to seven years, while specialized knowledge transferees are limited to five years.

It is recommended that you submit your application no less than 45 days before you or your employee intends to enter the U.S.

When the transferee arrives at the port of entry, they need proof of citizenship, a letter outlining the details of the transfer, and a job offer or contract.

Traders (E-1) and investors (E-2)

Under NAFTA, traders can enter the U.S. and trade goods and services.

NAFTA also allows investors to develop and direct a company in which they own at least 50 per cent or maintain a controlling investment. Investors must be involved in supervisory or executive activities.

Requests for trader and investor visas are processed at the U.S. consulate general in Toronto, and you must attend an interview in Toronto.

Non-NAFTA classifications:

Speciality occupations (H1-B)

If you don’t qualify under the temporary entry provision into the U.S. under NAFTA, you many still qualify under existing immigration regulations.

A specialty occupation is generally defined as one that requires highly specialized knowledge and a Bachelor’s degree in that specific area of knowledge.

To qualify, a prospective U.S. employer must secure a Labour Condition Application, and then the applicant must submit an I-129 petition to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Medium-or lower-skilled workers (H-2B)

The H-2B classification can be used by U.S.-based companies to hire medium or lower-skilled workers to perform temporary services.

This visa does not apply to work in agriculture.

An H-2B visa won’t be approved if it displaces U.S. workers capable of performing the same tasks, or if issuing the visa will adversely affect U.S. wages or working conditions.

Travelling with business gifts and samples

You can pay duties on goods you are planning to bring home with you, and then file for a drawback when you get home.

It’s also possible to take advantage of Temporary Importation under Bond, a service which allows you to post a bond for twice the amount of the duty that would be owed for importation. If you move the samples back to Canada within one year of entry, you recover your bond. These bonds can be extended for up to three years.

A temporary admission carnet (ATA Carnet) is a document you can use to temporarily import goods duty free into the U.S., so long as the goods are not re-exported. Carnets are valid for one year and can be used for an unlimited amount of trips in that period.

Entry issues:

Construction Services

Entry of construction workers and tradespeople isn’t covered under NAFTA. As a result, getting workers cleared for entry can take weeks.

You can find more information on cross-border construction issues from the Canadian Construction Association.

After-sales service

Repair, warranty, maintenance and related services are covered under NAFTA. You will need to prove that the work you or your employees are doing in the U.S. falls under NAFTA, using a copy of the original sales contract that specifies after-sales service.


NAFTA permits Canadians to enter the U.S. to attend a trade show, and sales staff can enter to take orders or negotiate contracts. However, you cannot deliver goods or services while at a show.

Source: TCS