Thanks to NAFTA, certain professionals from Canada and Mexico have a readily-available visa option that allows them to work for a U.S. employer in the country. Because the TN visa has several advantages over other working visas, we’ve highlighted the important details surrounding this relatively less-known visa category.
What is NAFTA?
The North American Free Trade Agreement is a treaty that was put into effect over 20 years ago in 1994. The agreement was signed by the United States, Canada, and Mexico and allows for fewer restrictions on the trade of goods and services between the three countries.
As a result, it allows for a particular visa class that gives both Mexicans and Canadians a relatively cost-effective and easily-obtainable option for nonimmigrant work status in the U.S.
NAFTA was created with the hope that the advanced economies of the United States and Canada would be able to integrate and stimulate the still-developing Mexican economy. Because of this, the visa application process for Canadians differs from that of Mexicans.
Who is Eligible?
Because NAFTA is an agreement between North American nations, only Canadians and Mexicans are eligible for the TN visa class. In addition to claiming citizenship with one of these two countries, a qualified applicant must have:
- an occupation that falls within the list of qualified professions
- a full or part-time job offer from a U.S. employer. Note that you cannot be self-employed to be eligible for a TN visa.
- the necessary qualifications to perform the position
It is important for employers to note that the position must be one that necessitates a foreign NAFTA professional to perform. This is to prevent having U.S. jobs removed from qualified American workers and outsourced to foreign professionals.
Process for Canadians
Rather than going through the process of obtaining a separate visa, Canadian citizens are able to simply travel to a U.S. port of entry such as the U.S-Canadian border or an airport and be admitted into the country as a TN nonimmigrant.
All potential Canadian TN status holders must have these documents with them in order to be eligible:
- A document that proves your citizenship such as a valid passport.
- A letter from the employer you will be working for in the U.S. that gives details about the position, how long you will be staying, the educational requirements for the job, and the necessity for a NAFTA professional.
- An evaluation of your credentials if applicable.
- All necessary fees.
To learn more about the exact process you will encounter at the U.S. port of entry, visit the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) website.
If you are the potential employer of a Canadian professional, you can file an I-129 Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker on their behalf. Through this method, you will be able to file with premium processing for an additional fee to ensure that the petition is approved or denied within 15 calendar days.
If the petition is approved, Canadian professionals can then travel to a U.S. port of entry and present their proof of citizenship and the I-797 approval notice sent by the USCIS. They should also have a copy of the original I-129 and relevant documents in case their eligibility is called into question.
Process for Mexicans
Mexican citizens must obtain a TN visa in order to be admitted into the U.S. under TN nonimmigrant status. To do this, you must first go to a U.S. consulate or embassy and apply for your TN visa there.
Once you receive approval for TN status, you can then go to a U.S. port of entry and apply for admission into the United States. You must show proof that you have maintained your nonimmigrant status and plan to for the duration of your stay. You must also provide the same documentation that is required of Canadians.
TN Visa – Qualifying Professions
Unfortunately, unlike many other nonimmigrant working visas, there is a very limited list of only 63 professions that are considered for the TN visa. Some of the more common occupations are:
- Computer Systems Analyst
- Graphic Designer
- College or University Professor
- Occupational Therapist
To see the full list of qualified professions for the TN visa, you can visit the USCIS NAFTA Regulations.
How Much Does it Cost?
Compared to other visa classifications like the H-1B visa, the fees are relatively small to obtain TN status.
Because Canadians do not need to have a physical visa in order to have TN status, they are only responsible for the $50 application fee and a $6 fee for the I-94 arrival/departure form.
Mexicans are required to apply for a visa at a U.S. consulate or embassy and so are responsible for a $160 application fee as well as the $6 I-94 fee.
Regardless of your employee’s nationality, if you as the employer choose to file an I-129 petition, you will be subject to the $460 filing fee as well as the other applicable fees.
Drawbacks to the TN Visa
It is important to know that the advantages of the TN visa do not come without some disadvantages. Unfortunately, this visa class is not considered “dual intent”. This means that, while under TN status, you cannot be seeking to apply for lawful permanent residency through a green card.
Attempting to apply for a green card while under TN status can jeopardize your nonimmigrant status and cause complications with the USCIS and the CBP. Consult your immigration attorney to learn which visa options are considered dual intent.
TN Visa Renewal
The initial period of stay under TN status is 3 years. At the end of your visa validation period, you can file for a renewal or extension of stay by submitting an I-539 application to extend/change nonimmigrant status. These renewals can be obtained an unlimited number of times provided that you maintain qualification for TN status.
The process for renewals differs slightly for Canadians and Mexicans. For Canadians, you can either leave the U.S. and return to re-apply for TN status or your employer can file another I-129 with the applicable fees.
For Mexican citizens, because you need to obtain a visa, you must either leave the country and request an extension at a U.S. consulate in Mexico or you can have your employer file another I-129.
How Our Attorneys Can Help
The dedicated immigration attorneys here at SGM Law Group have a long history of assisting foreign professionals with obtaining work visas to the U.S. From helping clients choose the most appropriate immigration path to making sure that all necessary documentation and fees are properly filed, our lawyers work for you.
If you would like to hire one of our attorneys, you can fill out this contact form to schedule a consultation.