A new interpretation of work visas in the U.S., which recently wreaked havoc with Canadian nurses working at American hospitals, could soon cause problems for other professionals, according to an immigration lawyer.

The trouble began last week when visa applications for advanced practice nurses and advanced clinical nurse practitioners working in Detroit hospitals were denied.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection did not explain what happened specifically when they announced on Friday nurses would once again be approved for work visas.

Windsor immigration lawyer Laurie Tannous said the confusion stemmed from a new interpretation of legislation under U.S. president Donald Trump's administration, which could apply to more professions than just nursing. 

"It's the same legislation, the same rules, the same policies," she said. "They're just being enforced, whereas for the eight years prior to that, they weren't."

More problems expected

Canadian nurses have for years been approved for non-immigrant professional (TN) visas under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). But recent applications for specialized nurses were rejected.

News of the problem emerged last week when staff at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit received reports from several nurses who had been denied the TN work visas.

Tannous worries other Canadian professionals working in the U.S. could experience similar problems, considering an estimated 30,000 to 40,000 citizens have the TN visas.

Because so many of the job categories under NAFTA have similar "grey areas" when it comes to definitions, Tannous expects other professions — such as management consultants, scientific technicians and engineers — could see similar scrutiny.

"We're definitely keeping an eye on what's happening because we imagine and expect there will be a continual, more literal enforcement of the current legislation, at least until NAFTA is opened up and negotiated," she said.