TN Visa – The Complete Guide
Through NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement), many Canadian and Mexican professionals have been given the opportunity to work in the U.S. by obtaining TN status. The application procedures for Mexican and Canadian citizens differ, as do the renewal options. Below we set out a guide on how to obtain and renew your TN visa.
What is a TN Visa?
A TN visa is a visa for nonimmigrant NAFTA Professionals. NAFTA stands for North American Free Trade Agreement. NAFTA created special trade and economic relationships between the U.S., Canada, and Mexico.
The TN visa allows Canadian and Mexican citizens, as NAFTA professionals, to work in prearranged business activities in the U.S. for U.S. or foreign employers. Only temporary entry into the U.S. is granted with this visa specifically for designated business activities.
Only Canadian or Mexican citizens are eligible for a TN visa. Permanent residents in these countries do not qualify. Only certain types of professionals are also eligible for TN status. These professionals include:
TN1 Visa vs TN2 Visa
The TN1 and TN2 visas refer to the different visas for Canadians and Mexicans. TN1 visas apply to Canadian Citizens and TN2 visas apply to Mexican citizens.
TN Visa Requirements
Apart from being a Canadian or Mexican citizen, the following general requirements apply for TN visas:
- Your profession must qualify as a NAFTA profession. This means your profession must be on the NAFTA list.
- The business activity or position you wish to engage in must require a NAFTA professional.
- You have the necessary qualification to practice in the profession you are applying for.
- You have a pre-arranged job (full-time or part-time) with a U.S. employer.
Professionals who are self-employed do not qualify.
Most NAFTA professions require a baccalaureate degree as an entry-level requirement. Experience in a specific field will not be able to substitute the requirement for this degree, although some alternatives to the degree might be listed. Experience might also be required in addition to a degree. Here is a full list of NAFTA professions with its minimum education requirements and alternative credentials.
If you are a Canadian citizen and you are a NAFTA professional, you don’t need a TN visa to perform this type of work in the U.S. Canadian citizens can, however, request that a TN visa be issued to them.
Basically, this means that if you are a Canadian citizen, you can receive TN status without applying for the TN visa. The steps you need to follow to get TN status is set out below.
Mexican citizens have to formally apply for TN visas with the steps set out below.
TN Visa Application
The application procedure differs for Mexican and Canadians. We set out the different procedures below.
An important factor to keep in mind for both Canadians and Mexicans is that when you apply for TN status, you need to make sure you establish “non-immigrant intent”. This will show immigration officials a clear intention that you are not planning to stay in the U.S. on a permanent basis and that you intend to return to your home country.
Canadian citizens don’t have to apply for their TN visas at a U.S. embassy or consulate. Canadian citizens can simply establish their TN eligibility (and get TN status) at the time they seek to be admitted to the U.S. This is done by presenting the required documentation to a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer at designated ports of entry. Alternatively, this can be done at a designated pre-flight inspection station.
Canadian Citizens must present the following documents to the CBP officer:
- Proof that you are a Canadian citizen.
- A letter from your prospective employer which sets out details like the professional capacity which you will be working in, the length of your stay, the purpose of your employment and your educational qualifications.
- Evaluation of your credentials (if applicable) which compares your credentials from Canada to those in the U.S.
- Any applicable fees.
As an alternative, your prospective employer can also apply for your TN visa on your behalf. They must submit a Form I-129 (Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker) to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
Once the Form I-129 has been approved, you can then apply to CBP to be admitted to the U.S. as a TN nonimmigrant. The following documentation will need to be supplied to the CBP Officer at the designated port of entry or pre-flight inspection station:
- Proof that you are a Canadian citizen
- The Approval Notice for your Form I-129 issued by the USCIS
It will be a good idea to have a copy of your Form I-129 and relevant supporting documents (which were submitted to the USCIS) with you, as the CBP Officer can ask you questions about your eligibility. An inspection fee may be applicable at this point.
Mexican citizens have to apply for a TN visa at a U.S. embassy or consulate in Mexico. There are various steps and the order of the steps and how they are to be completed will vary at the different embassies or consulates.
1. Complete the Online Visa Application Form
This is a Form DS-160 and can be completed online. Once you have completed the Form DS-160, you must print the confirmation page to take to your interview. All Frequently Asked Questions about the Form DS-160 is answered on this page.
Note that you may need a photograph to complete your Form DS-160. The requirements for this photograph can be found here.
Once your TN visa has been approved, you can apply to be admitted at designated CBP ports of entry or at designated pre-flight inspection stations.
2. Schedule an Interview
The interview should be scheduled at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate in the country where you live. You can schedule this interview in another country but applying for the TN visa could be more difficult in such a case.
It is a good idea to apply for this interview early as waiting times depend on many factors. You can check for the waiting time at your specific location here.
3. Prepare for your interview
You will need to pay an application fee of $160 for your TN visa and you might also need to pay an issuance fee. Payment of an issuance fee is dependent on your nationality. You can check on this page whether you will need to pay an issuance fee.
You will need to take the following documents to your interview:
- Your passport, which is valid for travel to the U.S. for 6 months beyond your planned period of stay. Some countries are exempted from this 6-month requirement.
- The Form DS-160 confirmation page.
- The receipt from your payment of the application fee.
- A photograph, but this is only required if you failed to upload the photo whilst filling in the Form DS-160. The same photograph requirements will apply.
- Your letter of employment or contract with your employer proving that you have a job offer. This letter must include the following information:
- The purpose of your entry
- A description of your employment responsibilities
- Your length of stay in the U.S.
- Your credentials and educational requirements
- Arrangements for your pay
- Documents that can prove you meet the minimum requirements of your relevant NAFTA profession.
The Embassy or Consulate may require additional documents after your interview as further evidence of your eligibility
How long can you stay in the U.S. on a TN Visa?
The maximum period a TN visa can be granted for is 3 years. On paper, TN visas can be extended in three-year increments indefinitely as long as the holder satisfies all the requirements. The reality of extending the TN visa is unfortunately not that simple. There are many factors that can influence the time you can stay in the U.S. on a TN visa.
Although current laws and regulations stipulate that you can live and work in the U.S. for three years on a TN visa, immigration officials actually determine the period that your TN visa is valid. This will be determined when you apply and is usually based on the period that your employment in the U.S. will last. The employment letter provided to you should, therefore, make sure the time period is stated is accurate.
TN Visa Renewal
Like other Visas, your TN Visa will need to be renewed. Below are the guidelines for extending or reapplying for your TN Visa.
Extending your TN visa
If you want to extend the period that your TN visa is valid, your employer can file a Form I-129 extension petition the USCIS. If your job continues to satisfy the TN requirements, your stay will be extended.
There are specific time periods and processing times that apply to extension petitions. Your employer cannot file an extension petition before 6 months till the end of your current TN visa. Processing times for this extension can take anything from 2 to 7 months, but fortunately, USCIS has a premium processing service available at additional cost. Processing time on this premium service is 15 calendar days.
Reapplying for TN Status
You can re-apply for TN status at a port of entry. This might be an easier way to extend your TN stay. Instead of waiting for the USCIS to process your extension petition, you leave the U.S. and head towards another U.S. port of entry to follow the same application procedure as your initial application.
There are risks attached to this method, which you should bear in mind.
Armed with the information above, you should understand everything you need to know about the different types of TN Visas, how to apply for one, and how to renew it or extend it when the time comes. Check back with Stilt in the future for updates about TN Visas and processes.