The NAFTA professional TN visa, which is based on the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), allows Canadian and Mexican citizens to work in the United States in a full-time or part-time professional capacity. Although the purpose of the TN NAFTA professional visa is to strengthen trade relations and business activities between the United States, Canada, and Mexico, the rules are slightly different depending on whether you are Canadian or Mexican.
Who is Eligible for a TN visa?
To qualify for a TN visa, you must meet the following requirements:
- Be a citizen of Canada or Mexico (not merely a permanent resident);
- Practice in a profession that qualifies as an accepted NAFTA profession;
- Be hired as a NAFTA professional in the United States;
- Have a written job offer with a US employer (self-employment is not allowed); and
- Have earned the qualifications necessary to practice in your profession.
Citizens of Mexico must apply for a TN visa at a US embassy or consulate in Mexico, while citizens of Canada have the additional option of processing their visa paperwork at their US port of entry (the Seattle airport, for example) or during the pre-flight inspection (for first-time applicants). Permanent residents of Canada and Mexico are ineligible for a TN visa – citizenship in one of the two countries is required.
To enter the United States in TN nonimmigrant visa status, your visa application must include the following documentation requirements, which must be submitted to the inspecting officer (a consular official for Mexican citizens; a CBP border patrol officer for Canadian citizens):
- Proof of your Mexican or Canadian citizenship (your passport should be sufficient);
- A letter from your future employer explaining the nature of your position, the purpose of your employment, how long you are expected to remain in the US; and your academic qualifications;
- A credentials evaluation (depending on where you went to school); and
- Applicable fees (see below for an explanation).
Since a TN visa holder is considered a nonimmigrant, you might also be asked to prove that you have ties to your home country sufficient to lure you back after your TN visa expires – homeownership, for example. You may also be asked to produce additional information.
Obtaining a Credential Evaluation
If your college or university degree is from a third-country institution (the United Kingdom, for example), you should have both your degree and your transcript evaluated in advance by a foreign credential evaluation service. These services will evaluate your degree and find a US equivalent. You can include a credentials evaluation with your visa application to help you convince consular officials of your educational qualifications.
If you studied in Mexico, regardless of whether you are a Mexican citizen, you must have obtained the título to qualify for a TN visa on that basis.
How Long Can You Stay on a TN visa?
You can be granted TN status for up to three years. This is a maximum, however, not a minimum. In actual practice, US officials may admit a TN nonimmigrant for a shorter period. In no event will you be admitted for longer than you are being hired for. If you are being hired for a two-year stint, for example, you will be admitted for no longer than three years.
Immigration officials typically apply common sense when determining your initial period of stay. If you are coming to the US to work on a single project, for example, you will be admitted only for the duration of the project. Be sure to check your Form I-94, given to you at your US port of entry, to determine the length of your actual period of stay, regardless of what is printed on your visa.
You can extend your stay an indefinite number of times in three-year increments
Can You Live in the US with a TN visa?
You might think that since the TN visa can be extended indefinitely, it can serve as a substitute for a green card. Such is not the case, however. Once you cease to meet the qualifications for a TN visa (by changing to a job that is not on the NAFTA list, for example, or by retiring), you will not be eligible for a further extension of your TN visa.
Dual Intent and the TN Visa
The TN visa is not considered to be a “dual intent” visa, which means that problems arise when TN visa holders apply for green cards. The problem lies not so much in obtaining a green card while on a TN visa, but in maintaining or extending your TN visa after you apply for an immigrant visa or while your green card application is pending. If you intend to seek a green card while applying for a TN visa or while living in the US in TN status, consult an attorney.
Special Considerations for Mexicans
Unfortunately, it is generally more difficult for a Mexican citizen to obtain a TN visa than for a Canadian citizen to obtain one. Some of the differences are summarized below:
- Mexican citizens must apply for TN visas at a US embassy or consulate in Mexico. Canadian citizens, by contrast, need only show up for pre-flight inspection or clear their documentation through their US port of entry.
- The visa fee is higher for Mexicans ($160) than it is for Canadians ($50).
- Processing time for Mexicans is longer, due to the need to apply at a US consulate or embassy, schedule and attend a visa interview, and wait for final processing by immigration officials after the interview. Processing time could be significant, depending on the time of the year.
- It might be more difficult to convince a US immigration official that you plan to return to Mexico after your TN visa expires.
To put it into perspective, thousands of Mexicans receive TN visas every year.
The Language Barrier
Even if you are not proficient in English, you shouldn’t have any trouble communicating with US immigration officials, because at least some of them will be fluent in Spanish. Nevertheless, you are likely to need to prepare authorized English translations of any of your application materials that are written in Spanish or another language, even if the immigration official can read Spanish.
Preparing for Your Interview
When you prepare for entry into the United States, you should have your application documentation ready in case U.S. immigration officials ask you to produce it. You should also be familiar with all of this documentation and be able to answer questions about the content of your application.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Can my spouse and children come to the US if I get a TN visa?
Your spouse and your unmarried children under 21 may enter and remain in the US in the TD visa category, as long as you are issued a TN visa and maintain valid status. Your family, however, will not be allowed to work in the United States, or to even file an application for an Employment Authorization Document (EAD). They will be eligible to obtain work visas if they independently qualify for one.
Can my family attend school under a TD nonimmigrant visa?
Yes, your family is entitled to study in the United States on TD visas. They will not need to file an application for a student visa to attend school.
How much are the fees for TN visas?
The application fees for a TN visa depend on several factors, and Canadians and Mexicans are treated differently. A Canadian crossing the border must pay a $50 border crossing fee ($56 if crossing by car). The visa fee at a US embassy or consulate abroad, which Mexicans must use, is $160. If you adjust to TN visa status while in the US, you must pay the USCIS a processing fee of $460. Premium processing (expedited processing) is available for an extra $2,500.
My employer hired me for three years but my visa stamp says only one year. Why the discrepancy?
The period of validity of your visa is different from your period of stay. Suppose, for example, that your visa was issued on December 2, 2020, with a one-year period of validity and a three-year period of stay. You would be able to enter the US any time before December 2, 2021, and once you arrive you would be able to stay for three years. Check your Form I-94 (issued to you at the US border) to determine how long you are authorized to stay in the US.
Can I change employers while in TN status?
Yes, you can. USCIS immigration officials must approve a new TN application for you before you switch employers, however. You will need a USCIS approval notice or a new Form I-94 (for Canadians).
What if I am laid off from work by my employer?
If your employer lays you off from work, you will need to either depart the United States, secure alternative employment (with proper paperwork), or switch your visa to another status. Some people in this situation attempt to change their visa status in order to “buy time” to locate alternative employment.
Contact Herman Legal Group Today
An experienced immigration law firm can help you navigate your way through the regulations that govern the TN visa, and can help you ensure that you continue to receive extensions as long as you need them. Contact the Herman Legal Group today at 1-800-808-4013, or simply fill out our online contact form to schedule a consultation.