The TN visa is a nonimmigrant visa that allows citizens of Canada and Mexico to work temporarily in the U.S. under NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement). One of the greatest advantages of the TN visa is that it has no annual cap (unlike the dreaded H1B visa) and is a much simpler process than other work visas. However, it is available for specific occupations only and does require a job offer from a U.S. employer. Here’s how the TN visa works.

TN Visa Eligibility

The TN visa is split into two categories – TN-1 visa for Canadian citizens and the TN-2 visa for Mexican citizens. In order to qualify for a TN visa, you must meet the following criteria:

  • You are a Canadian or Mexican citizen (permanent residents are not eligible)
  • You have a full-time or part-time job offer from a U.S. employer (you cannot be self-employed)
  • Your profession qualifies as a NAFTA profession
  • You meet the educational (and other) requirements of the profession in question
  • You can provide evidence that the position in question requires a NAFTA professional

Applying for a TN Visa

The TN visa application process is slightly different for Mexican and Canadian citizens.

Canadian citizens do not have to apply for a TN visa at a consulate. You have two options:

Apply for TN status at the border itself. Cost: $50 USD to file the application & $6 USD for the I-94 form

Provide the CBP officer with the following:

  • A letter from your prospective employer detailing your role (must be on the list of NAFTA professions), the purpose of your employment, your qualifications, your salary and how long you will be in the U.S. (must be less than 3 years)
  • Copy of your degree, relevant professional licenses and employment history
  • Proof of Canadian citizenship (your passport will suffice)
  • A 2X2 photograph – while not required, always best to carry one with you

Alternatively, your employer can file Form I-129, Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker with the USCIS (filing fee: $460). The USCIS can take up to 6 months to process Form I-129, but if you elect for premium processing, this shortens the timeline to 15 calendar days. Please note that premium processing for several nonimmigrant visas had been suspended recently. An immigration attorney can let you know if it is an option at the time you apply.

Once the USCIS approves your Form I-129, come to the U.S. and present the CBP officer with the following:

  • Approval Notice for Form I-129
  • Proof of Canadian citizenship
  • You probably won’t need this, but best to bring a copy of Form I-129 that was filed (and supporting documentation)

Mexican Citizens are required to obtain their TN visas from a U.S. Embassy or Consulate and cannot show up at the border without one.  Follow these steps to apply for your TN visa:

  • Submit Form DS-160 Application for a Nonimmigrant Visa online. You will likely need to upload a digital photograph. Here are the photo requirements. Once you complete the form, print out the confirmation page. This is very important – you must bring this confirmation page to your interview!
  • Schedule a visa interview at your nearest Consulate. Wait times for visa appointments vary by location – some Consulates see a much higher volume of applications. You can find wait time estimates here. Simply scroll down to “Requirements for Mexican Citizens” and enter the location in the section titled “Appointment Wait Time”. At the time this article was written, the appointment wait time for nonimmigrant visas at the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City was 22 calendar days.
  • Take the following documents with you to your interview:
    1. Form DS-160 confirmation page
    2. Your payment receipt (for the application fee)
    3. Letter from your employer (same details as described for Canadian citizens above)
    4. Copy of your credentials

Bringing family on a TN visa

TN workers may bring family (spouses and unmarried children under 21) on a TD visa, the dependent visa associated with TN visas. You cannot work in the U.S. while on a TD visa, but you are allowed to study.

If you are a Mexican citizen, your spouse and children under 21 must follow the same process as you and apply for a visa at a U.S. Consulate or Embassy in Mexico.

How long is my TN visa valid?

Once granted, a TN visa is valid for 3 years. It can be renewed in 3 year increments with no limit on the number of times it can be renewed (your employer can do this for you). However, the TN visa is not a dual intent visa like the H1B. What does this mean? Dual intent means you can have the intent to work in the U.S. temporarily, but also have the intent to stay permanently. In other words, you can apply for a green card without putting your nonimmigrant status in jeopardy.

With a TN visa, it must be clear that your intention is to stay temporarily. If you keep renewing your TN visa indefinitely, it is likely to raise eyebrows (for example, if you’ve been on a TN visa for over 10 years now). The government may question your intent – it’s best to consult an attorney if you are renewing your TN visa for a 3rd or 4th time. Things can get tricky when TN visa holders decide they want to stay in the U.S. permanently. More on green card options for TN visa holders in our next blog.

Do you need an immigration lawyer?

Working with an immigration lawyer ensures the highest chance of success. While you can draft the employment letter yourself to present at the border, an attorney will ensure it meets all the legal requirements. If your employer is filing an I-129 on your behalf, they may already have an attorney on retainer for these sorts of matters. If you need help with your TN visa, you can find pre-screened immigration lawyers with over a decade of experience on Ask Ellis. We look forward to helping you!

*The content and materials available via Ask Ellis are for informational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice.

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