Canadian and Mexican professionals are accorded special status under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). TN stands for “Trade NAFTA.” The requirements are different for Canadians and Mexicans wishing to enter under the TN Visa classification.

To qualify for TN status, an applicant must:

  • Be a citizen of Canada or Mexico;
  • Have a professional degree or its equivalent;
  • Be a professional eligible to receive the TN visa; and
  • Have a job offer of professional employment from a U.S. employer. The current listing of professional occupations eligible for TN status can be found in the provisions of NAFTA at Appendix 1603.D.1.

The TN Visa is granted for three years, and can be renewed indefinitely for additional three year periods. The initial TN Visa is issued at a U.S. port of entry along the Canadian border with a request for TN status; proof of Canadian citizenship; the applicant’s college degree and employment records; a detailed letter from the applicant’s prospective U.S. employer offering a job included on the NAFTA list; a fee of U.S. $50. The spouse and unmarried, minor children of the principal applicant are entitled to derivative status (TD status), but they are unable to accept employment in the U.S.

The process is now similar for nationals of Mexico, except that they are required to obtain a TN visa at a U.S. Consulate or Embassy abroad, and thus subject to a visa interview.

If the TN candidate is present in the U.S., the employer can file a petition with the USCIS, optionally through premium processing, for both Canadian and Mexican nationals. The advantage of USCIS filing is that the beneficiary can commence employment in TN status upon approval of the petition granting change of status without departing the U.S. If the beneficiary does depart the U.S. for personal or business or any other reason, he or she is “pre-approved” and this can facilitate entry to the U.S. from foreign travel.

The TN Visa is a nonimmigrant visa; the holder must maintain a nonimmigrant intent and a foreign residence. Under no circumstances should the duration of employment exceed three years, as this would disqualify the TN applicant. Moreover, each TN application must explicitly affirm the applicant’s intention to remain in the U.S. temporarily. Canadians can renew their TN status by returning to Canada to reapply at a port of entry with the same documentation that is required of their original application. Ditto for Mexicans with the proviso that the visa be obtained at a U.S. Consulate or Embassy.

Alternatively, Canadian and Mexican nationals can extend TN status through filing a petition with the USCIS, thereby avoiding unnecessary and potentially risky travel, especially if nonimmigrant intent is questioned at a port of entry for Canadians or Mexicans, or at a U.S. Consulate or Embassy for Mexicans.

A person currently in TN status may wish to change status to H-1B if planning on obtaining a green card (permanent residency). H-1B visa status allows for intention to immigrate to the U.S. and will therefore not interfere with entries to the U.S. while the green card process is being adjudicated. As indicated elsewhere in our website, the green card process is normally initiated through the filing of an application for labor certification (commonly known as PERM).

Please contact our firm if you have questions.

[Note: Please consult with an attorney specializing in Immigration & Nationality law for professional advice in specific situations.]

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