Moving From a TN Visa to a Green Card

Updated on November 3, 2023
At a Glance: TN visa holders in the U.S. can transition to a green card, but it requires additional steps and careful consideration. TN visa is a non-immigrant visa, so it doesn’t automatically lead to a green card. Canadians on a TN visa may face challenges due to the requirement of dual intent for green cards. Mexican TN visa holders can also face difficulties in obtaining a green card directly. Transitioning to H1B or L1 status, exploring E-1 or E-2 programs, or pursuing family-based immigration options are possible routes. Consular processing is another option, allowing TN visa holders to apply for a green card from outside the U.S. Consulting an immigration attorney is recommended for guidance through the process.

When you are moving away from your city or state, it is clear that you will have to bring some form of documentation with you to prove your stay there. But we keep hearing about visas and green cards; what is their actual deal?

Well, the TN visa is a non-immigrant type of visa classification that is available to the citizens of Mexico and Canada. Those who have a TN visa can work and live in the U.S. – initially for 3 years, after which you can extend the period indefinitely, regardless of how many years you plan on staying there.

Can TN Visa Holders in the U.S. Transition to a Green Card?

One of the most common questions that TN visa workers have is whether they can move from such a visa to a green card or not. The answer for that is: yes, you can most certainly do so. Both Canadian and Mexican citizens can work in the U.S. However, there are some things that you may want to keep in mind.

Considering that the TN visa is a non-immigrant type of visa classification, it does not automatically lead to you receiving a green card. Therefore, in order to move from TN visa to green card, you will have to go through a status adjustment or apply for an immigrant visa beforehand. You may be able to get a TN loan with a TN visa, but the long-term paperwork trouble is sometimes not actually worth it.

Canadian TN Visa to Green Card

While it is possible, getting a green card as a Canadian on a TN visa can be rather tricky. Every type of non-immigrant status – TN included – will require that the foreign person returns to the country where they originate.

Having said that, in order to remain in the United States on a green card, your visa needs to be of dual intent – which is not usually the case for the TN. With a dual intent status, you are still allowed to seek permanent residency within the state – but without it, the risk of losing even your TN visa is very high.

With that in mind, if you are a Canadian working in the United States on a TN status, then even applying for a green card can put you at risk of losing your TN visa – and potentially forcing you to return to Canada.

This doesn’t mean that there is no hope in sight for those on a TN visa. It will just require a bit more paperwork – and quite a bit of legwork – but eventually, there is a chance that you might make a shift from TN visa to the good ol’ green card. This way, you can even get your hands on some U.S. loans for Canadians and actually settle.

Mexican TN Visa to Green Card

Similar to Canadians, getting a green card on a Mexican TN visa can be rather troublesome. While you may be able to get dual intent with classifications such as the H1B or the L1, it is unlikely that you’ll be able to get your green card directly. You’ll have to go through a few roundabouts – and you’ll also have to assume some risks – but other than that, it is still possible.

The Issue with Dual Intent

We keep hearing about dual intent – but what is exactly dual intent? How does it affect our visa? Well, with dual intent, a person working on a non-immigrant status in the US can still seek ways to apply for a green card. In other words, if you begin there on temporary work status and decide that you wish to stay, you may still change your mind and go for permanent residence.

Some laws allow you to change your mind and become a permanent resident – but others do not have this luxury. For example, while an L1 or an H1B is compatible with dual status, the TN visa is not. As such, the mere act of filing for a green card may end up getting you deported. Getting a TN visa mortgage is also out of the question since you’ll no longer be there to reap the benefits of your mortgage.

TN Visa to Green Card through Employment

As mentioned, while it may be relatively difficult to get a green card after arriving in the US on a TN status, it is still not impossible. If you want to remain, all you will have to do is transition from your TN status to any of the other dual intent non-immigrant statuses.

Transition from a TN Visa to H1B Status

If you are in the United States on a TN status, the chances are very high that you will also satisfy the requirements needed for H1B status. Granted, you will have to discuss with your employer before making this transition – but the chances are very high that there will not be any issues. It is a much safer alternative than to apply directly for a green card – mainly because you don’t risk putting your temporary work visa in danger.

Once you get accepted into the H1B visa program, things should get easier. Granted, most of the legwork will be done as you are making this switch – but eventually, it should pay off. After this, you may work together with your employee and seek permanent residence by using an employment-based immigration petition.

Transition from a TN Visa to L1 Status

When it comes to L1 status, you have two options to go for: L1A and L1B. Like the H1B status, both of these have the advantage of dual intent, which means that you may easily seek permanent residence.

The problem with this type of visa is that it is slightly more troublesome compared to H1B status, for example – and it will concern both you and your employer. To begin with, your employer must have a subsidiary, an affiliate – or any other related company set in another country. Furthermore, you must be able to prove that you actually worked within that subsidiary for at least a year.

Last but not least, your job abroad must prove that you had a specific high-standing capacity. You have to be a manager or an executive – or you will have to show that you are a “specialized knowledge” employer.

With an L1, you will have to prove that you are above average – and most of the time, it may also require an immigration attorney. It is a fairly complicated program to get into, so make sure that you are prepared for all the bumps that may come along the road.

Transition from a TN Visa to E-1 or E-2 Status

Thanks to the NAFTA (North American Trade Agreement), on which the TN visa was based, a Canadian or Mexican citizen may apply for the E-2 treaty investor or E-1 treaty trader status – both of which have dual intent.

While this program may have its ups and downs, some citizens on a TN visa find it much easier to get into. For the E-1 program, for instance, one of the requirements would be that your current employer does trading or investing in countries that are under the NAFTA wing. And considering that both Mexico and Canada are partners with the U.S. under NAFTA, you may easily make the switch to an E-1 or E-2 program.

Bear in mind that both E-1 and E-2 visas have relatively specific requirements – which may make this process rather lengthy. As a result, you may want to consider hiring an immigration attorney.

TN Visa to Green Card through Family-Based Immigration

This may be one of the most convenient ways for a non-US citizen to get a green card: stick to your family. If you have a family member that is close to you and has a green card (or is scheduled to get one), then you may easily opt for a green card as well through them.

Derivative Benefits Through Your U.S. Spouse

If you have a spouse in the United States on a dual-intent status or with the ability to opt for permanent residence (if they aren’t residents already), then you may also be included on their application for a green card – notably, as a “dependent.” This will be named as “derivative benefits.”

Perhaps the best part of this is that, if you are a derivative beneficiary, your non-immigrant intent will no longer be a concern. Therefore, even if you are in the United States on a TN visa, you will not have to worry about the complications of applying for permanent residence. If your spouse adds you as a derivative beneficiary on their green card, you do not have to worry about losing your TN status.

Family-Based Sponsorship Directly for You

Family can also help keep you in the United States – not just your spouse. Say that you have a brother, an in-law, or some other close relative in the United States with a green card; as long as they have lawful permanent residency, they may file for an immigrant visa petition.

Bear in mind that this is not as simple as your spouse taking you in as a derivative beneficiary; there are certain stricter rules that you will have to follow when it comes to family-based sponsorship – and there are also several other TN visa taxes that you may have to deal with. Ideally, in these circumstances, you may want to hire an immigration attorney to ensure that you do not somehow endanger your TN visa.

As long as you have a TN visa status along with an immediate immigrant visa number available, then you should be able to change to permanent residence as long as you file your application at the same time with your family’s petitioning for you. However, you may want to be careful, as this does not get rid of the dual-intent problem – so, going too head-on might give you some issues. Once again, you may want to take the help of an immigration attorney.

TN Visa to Green Card through Consular Processing

Consular processing is the process of applying for a green card by using the consulate or the U.S. Embassy in a different country. It is also a family-based immigration method – but unlike the other options where you have to be in the United States, you may petition this from outside the country.

If you are a TN visa immigrant looking for a green card through consular processing, you should know that this method is practically a “loophole.” To put it simply, a TN visa is given to you on the basis that you will return to your own country eventually. Therefore, when returning to Canada or Mexico to finish the processing, you would be able to provide evidence that your previous admission was finite and temporary – ergo, no laws were broken. As we said, it’s a loophole.

Moreover, if you file for a green card under your immigrant visa processing, you should be able to go to and from the United States without any issues – even as a TN holder. You will just need to be aware of the risks in various situations – but with enough research, you should be able to find your way around.

Ideally, once more, you may want to seek the help of a professional immigrant attorney – as they will certainly know what you should and should not do.

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Final Thoughts

We all need to feel that we permanently belong to a place – and a renewable TN visa may not always allow us to set our roots. Transitioning to a green card from a TN visa may not be easy and can sometimes come with risks, but it is certainly doable.

Ideally, you may want to work closely with an attorney to ensure that you don’t lose your TN visa in the process. They will surely know what you have to do every step of the way.

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Frank Gogol

I’m a firm believer that information is the key to financial freedom. On the Stilt Blog, I write about the complex topics — like finance, immigration, and technology — to help immigrants make the most of their lives in the U.S. Our content and brand have been featured in Forbes, TechCrunch, VentureBeat, and more.