The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is a tri-lateral trade agreement signed into law in 1994 which established privileged economic and trade relationships between the United States, Canada and Mexico. NAFTA allowed for the creation of the TN visa classification, which allows qualified Canadian and Mexican nationals to be employed temporarily by U.S. companies in specific professions.
To qualify for a TN visa, applicants must:
- Be a national of Canada or Mexico
- Have a U.S. sponsor and a firm job offer
- Be coming to work in one of the listed professions
- Have the specific education, licensure or qualifications for the qualified profession, based on the regulations
- Be coming to work for a temporary period with non-immigrant intent
TN visa classification can be secured thorough application abroad or through application within the U.S. (at USCIS).
Canadian nationals generally qualify to enter the U.S. without securing a visa stamp and the TN applications of Canadians are usually made directly at the port of entry.
Mexican nationals make a TN Visa application at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate in Mexico and once the TN visa is secured in their passport, can apply for admission at the port of entry.
Once an individual is in the U.S., they can apply for extensions of TN status through USCIS. Additionally, Beneficiaries can change status to TN while in the U.S. through USCIS applications.
Beneficiaries of TN visas may be joined by their qualifying dependents (spouses and children). Qualifying dependents would apply for dependent TD visas (if required). Upon entrance into the U.S. TD dependents are not permitted to work.
The TN visa is non-immigrant in nature and applicants must demonstrate intend to depart the United States when the TN visa ends. TN applications may be granted for a period of 3 years, however admission and duration is at the discretion of the CBP admission officer and / or USCIS Adjudication Officer.
While TN extensions are available and possible to secure, it is important to maintain non-immigrant intent while in TN status and it is not recommended that TN be a long term work authorization option for persons intending to work in the U.S. for long periods of time.
Dual-Intent and Future Green Card Applications
TN visas are non-immigrant in nature and do not benefit from “dual intent”, which means that foreign nationals who enter the U.S. in TN status cannot apply for Lawful Permanent Residence (“green card”) immediately upon entry without subjecting such an application to scrutiny regarding the possibility of fraudulent intent when they entered as a non-immigrant.
It is possible to file a green card case while on TN status, however, timing is of the utmost importance. In order to protect the non-immigrant status and any green card application, travel and entries into the U.S. should be carefully monitored in association with the progress of the green card application.