TN Visa – The Complete Guide

Updated on January 4, 2024

At a Glance

  • The TN visa is a nonimmigrant visa for NAFTA Professionals, allowing Canadian and Mexican citizens to work in designated business activities in the U.S.
  • Eligibility is limited to Canadian and Mexican citizens, and specific professionals like accountants, lawyers, engineers, and scientists qualify for TN status.
  • Application processes differ for Canadians (at the port of entry) and Mexicans (applying at a U.S. embassy or consulate).
  • TN visas can be extended or renewed, and individuals may explore further immigration options once in the U.S.

Can Canadian citizens work in the U.S.? 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 the 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:

  • Accountants
  • Lawyers,
  • Engineers
  • Scientists
  • Pharmacists
  • Teachers

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 their minimum education requirements and alternative credentials.

Canadian Citizens

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 a TN visa. The steps you need to follow to get TN status is set out below.

Mexican Citizens

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

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 sets out details like the professional capacity in which you will be working, 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 Form I-129 (Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker) to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

Once 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

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 proves 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

After You Apply

If your application is approved, you will have to take part in an immigration interview to move forward with your TN visa application. Check out this list of interview questions for the TN visa if you want to brush up on the best answers ahead of your interview.

Financial Resources for TN Visa Holders

Getting your TN visa and coming to the U.S. are just the first couple of steps in a much longer relocation process. There are other important questions in front of you, are there Canadian banks in the U.S.? What about mortgages for TN visa holders or mortgages for Canadian visa holders? It’s important that you ask yourself these questions and familiarize yourself with their answers if you want to be successful in the U.S.

How long can you stay in the U.S. on a TN Visa?

How long can Canadians stay in the U.S.? The maximum period a TN visa can be granted 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 with 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 an 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.

After You Arrive in the U.S.

Once you arrive in the U.S. with your TN visa, there are a number of opportunities that will open up to you. You could transition from a TN visa to an H1B visa. You could transition from a TN visa to a Green Card. You could even apply for a TD visa for your spouse. Needless to say, anyone one of these things could go a long way toward you making the most of your new life in the U.S.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What is a TN Visa?

The TN visa is a non-immigrant visa category available under the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), formerly known as NAFTA. It allows citizens of Canada and Mexico to work in the U.S. in prearranged business activities for U.S. or foreign employers.

Who is eligible for a TN Visa?

Eligibility for a TN visa is limited to citizens of Canada and Mexico who work in certain professional occupations, such as engineers, lawyers, scientists, and teachers. Applicants must possess the necessary qualifications for their respective profession.

What are the requirements for obtaining a TN Visa?

Requirements include:

  1. Citizenship of Canada or Mexico.
  2. A job offer from a U.S. employer in a qualifying profession.
  3. Relevant qualifications, typically a bachelor’s degree or higher, or professional experience in the specific field.
  4. Proof of intent to return to the home country after the visa expires.

How does a Canadian citizen apply for a TN Visa?

Canadian citizens can apply for TN status at a U.S. port of entry with the required documentation, including proof of Canadian citizenship, a job offer letter, and credentials. They do not need a prior petition approval from USCIS.

How long is a TN Visa valid?

A TN visa can be issued for up to three years and can be renewed indefinitely in three-year increments, as long as the visa holder continues to meet the eligibility requirements.

Can TN Visa holders bring their family members?

Yes, TN visa holders can bring their spouse and unmarried children under the age of 21 under the TD (Trade Dependent) visa category. However, TD visa holders are not permitted to work in the U.S.

Are there any restrictions on the type of work TN Visa holders can do?

TN visa holders are restricted to working in the profession and for the employer specified in their visa application. Any significant change in employment requires notification or a new visa application.

Can a TN Visa lead to permanent residency (Green Card)?

While the TN visa is a non-immigrant visa and does not directly lead to permanent residency, TN visa holders can pursue a Green Card through employer sponsorship, family sponsorship, or other eligible paths.

What happens if a TN Visa holder loses their job?

If a TN visa holder loses their job, they must depart the U.S. or obtain a new TN visa based on a new job offer, as the visa is tied to the specific employer and job.

How can TN Visa holders extend their stay?

To extend TN status, visa holders can either apply for an extension of status through USCIS before their current status expires or depart the U.S. and reapply for TN status at a port of entry with the necessary documentation.

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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.