Visas for NAFTA Professionals

What is a TN visa?

TN visa is for citizens of Canada or Mexico who come to the U.S. as a business person to engage in business activities at a professional level in accordance with the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).  The business activities must be in the occupation specifically listed on NAFTA, and most will require at least a bachelor’s degree in the field and/or relevant license. For the full list of the professions eligible for a TN visa as provided by NAFTA, Appendix 1603.D.1 to Annex 1603, please visit here.

How can I qualify for a TN visa?

To qualify for a TN visa, you must be a citizen of either Canada or Mexico and have a job offer from an employer in the U.S. in one of the occupations listed on NAFTA.  You must also meet the specific requirements of your occupation as provided by NAFTA, such as a college degree, experience, certificate, and/or license. For certain healthcare professionals with a  non-U.S. degree, you also need to have a VisaScreen certificate.  Unlike H-1B visas, there is no minimum salary requirement but the salary proposed by your employer can be considered as a factor i determining whether you will engage in professional-level employment.  

How do I apply for a TN visa?

If you are a Canadian citizen, you can apply directly for TN status at a designated U.S. port-of-entry or pre-clearance/pre-flight inspection station.  You do not need to obtain a visa from a U.S. embassy in Canada.  You will need to present proof of your Canadian citizenship, a job offer letter from your U.S. employer detailing the terms and conditions of your employment, and proof of your eligibility such as diploma, credential evaluation, and license.  A U.S. Custom and Border Protection (CBP) officer will make a determination of your application and grant you a TN status if you qualify. If you are a Mexican citizen, you will first need to obtain a TN visa by applying at a U.S. Embassy/Consulate in Mexico.  After filing an online DS-160 and scheduling for your visa interview, you must submit the same documents proving your eligibility for TN visa to the consular officer. For both Canadian and Mexican citizens already in the U.S. on a different visa status, you may apply for a change of status without leaving the country by filing a Form I-129 petition directly to the USCIS with the required filing fee.  If approved, your visa status will be changed to TN and you can start working for your employer immediately. However, if a citizen of Mexico travels outside of the U.S. after receiving such approval from the USCIS, you will still need to apply for a TN visa at the U.S. Embassy/Consulate and be interviewed before re-entering the country under TN status.

How long can I stay in the U.S. with a TN visa?

You can receive up to 3 years of initial stay in the U.S. with a TN visa.  If you wish to continue your TN employment after your initial stay, you can either leave the U.S. and re-enter on a new TN visa status for another 3 years or apply for an extension of status in the U.S. by submitting a Form I-129 to the USCIS.  There are no limits on how many times you can apply for a TN visa, as long as you remain employed in a qualified occupation. TN visa does not allow “dual intent,” meaning you must show that you intend to depart the U.S. when your status expires.  If you filed an application for permanent residency, your TN visa application or extension may be denied.  Therefore, if you hold a TN visa and you need to travel outside of the U.S. or get an extension after you applied for permanent residency, you can consider changing your status to a different visa such as an H-1B that would allow you to have immigrant intent and still maintain your non-immigrant visa status.     

What if I want to quit or get terminated from my job?

If you resign or get terminated from your TN employment before the expiration date of your visa status, you will have up to 60 days of authorized stay (“grace period”) in the U.S. or may remain until the end of your TN validity period, whichever is shorter.  During this grace period, you may look for another employment, change your status to another visa, or prepare for your departure, but you are not permitted to work.

Can I bring my family members?

Your spouse or children under the age of 21 can apply for a TD visa as your dependents. Your spouse and children do not have to be citizens of Canada or Mexico to qualify for TD visa, but depending on their country of citizenship, they may be required to apply for a visa at a U.S. Embassy/Consulate and be interviewed before they can be admitted to the U.S. under TD status.  Employment is not permitted for TD visa holders but they may engage in full or part-time study in the U.S. However, if they wish to engage in on-campus employment or take advantage of curricular/optional practical training, they will have to change their status to F-1 student visa.

Click here for more information about applying for a TN visa as a management consultant.