The TN visa is a great option for Canadian & Mexican citizens looking to work in the U.S. temporarily. With no annual cap and a relatively simple process, it is a far more attractive option than the cumbersome H1B visa. While it has many advantages, the TN visa is only available for specific occupations and doesn’t offer a direct path to a green card. So how does one go from a TN visa to a green card?
TN visa is not a dual intent visa
The H1B, L1 and TN work visas are all nonimmigrant visas. This means they are temporary visas that require the visa holder to eventually return to his/her home country. The H1B and L1 visas are called dual intent visas because they allow you to come to the U.S. with the intent to work temporarily, but if you decide to stay permanently and apply for a green card, you can do so without jeopardizing your H1 or L1 status. The TN visa is a single intent visa, so starting a green card process while on TN status can put your TN status at risk. Learn more about how the TN visa works here.
Here are some alternative paths to go from a TN visa to a green card.
TN visa to green card – How do I do this?
One way for TN visa holders to apply for a green card is to switch to a dual intent visa like the H1B or L1 visa. This would allow your employer to file an employment-based green card for you.
Switch to the H1B Visa
The requirements for an H1B visa are very similar to that of the TN visa, so there is a good chance you would be eligible for an H1B visa. However, there are a limited number of H1B visas awarded every year (85,000) and the USCIS receives 2-3x more applications than available visas. As a result, all approved applications are put into a lottery system and 85,000 petitions are drawn at random. This is done in two stages – 65,000 for the general visa category and 20,000 for applicants with Master’s and PhDs. If you are already on a TN visa and aren’t selected in the lottery the first time around, you can try again the following year. You can carry on working on your TN visa while giving the H1B visa another try (it’s entirely possible that you may succeed on the first try). All you need is a willing employer as the H1B visa process is costlier and more complex (and best tackled with an attorney).
Switch to an L1 Visa
The L1 visa is an intra-company transferee visa. Only U.S. companies with a related entity in another country may sponsor workers for L1 visa. This “related entity” can be a branch, subsidiary, affiliate, or headquarters. For example, if a company is headquartered in New York, but has an office in Toronto, an employee from the Toronto office can transfer to the New York office under an L1 visa if he/she meets the criteria for the visa. To qualify for an L1 visa, you must be a manager, executive or have specialized knowledge AND you have to show that you have been working for the office abroad for at least one of the preceding three years.
If you are currently in the U.S. on a TN visa, you’d have to go work for your company abroad (in an L1 eligible role) for at least one year and then transfer back to the U.S. on an L1 visa. There are two types of L1 visas – the L1A and L1B. The L1A offers a faster path to the green card than the L1B. Outside of marrying a U.S. citizen, the L1A visa is one of the fastest ways to get to a green card. If your company has an office abroad, it is worth talking to an immigration attorney about the L1 visa program.
You can learn more about the H1B and L1 visa categories here.
Green Card Through a Family Member
If you have a spouse that is eligible to apply for a green card through his/her own nonimmigrant status (such as H1B or L1), you can be added to that green card application as a dependent. This is also known as “derivative benefits”. In this scenario, your TN status is not at risk. As a dependent, it does not matter that your TN status does not allow dual intent.
If you have a family member that is already a U.S. citizen (such as a spouse), they can sponsor you directly for a green card. If you are in the U.S. on TN status, this is where things get tricky. If you are considering this route, immigration attorney, Doug Lightman shares tips and strategies for TN visa holders pursuing a green card through marriage here.
Do you need an immigration lawyer?
Applying for a green card is not a straight-forward process for TN visa holders. You may have multiple pathways or none at all. An immigration attorney can assess your options and recommend a path that is best suited to your circumstances. 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.