The North American Free Trade Association (NAFTA) created a new class of work visa that is available only to citizens from Canada and Mexico. It allows citizens (not permanent residents) to apply for a renewable visa to work and live in the United States. There are many pathways into the United States, including J, EB and H however the TN visa is unusual in that it is relatively easy to approve and to renew.
Generally foreign travelers to the United States must obtain a visa (unless they are a citizen of a country in the Visa-Waiver program) however everyone must obtain a visa if they plan to work in the United States. There are short-term work visas, the H, P and J visas.
There are also permanent employment-based visas, the EB and H1-B visa. Unfortunately, approval for EB and H1-B visas can take months or even years and they require extensive paperwork. Moreover, there are a limited number of EB, H1-B and other work visas available therefore if the cap is reached, no more are issued for the year.
The TN Visa
NAFTA created a new classification of visa for citizens from Canada and Mexico. Unlike the H1-B and EB visas, there are no quota limits; theoretically an unlimited number of TN visas can be issued.
They are open to citizens who operate at a professional level. Generally this means any job that requires a baccalaureate degree or professional license For example lawyers, doctors, nurses and accountants are common TN visa positions. The State Department provides a comprehensive list that details every profession that qualifies for a TN visa.
Canadian citizens typically do not need to pre-apply for a TN visa. Most Canadian citizens can apply for a TN nonimmigrant status at the U.S. border. The only exception to this rule is if the Canadian citizen resides in a third country with a non-Canadian spouse and the visa applicant plans to bring that spouse and their children with him or her into the United States under the TN visa program.
Mexican citizens always require a TN visa before they are admitted.
The Approval Process
Unlike some other visa programs, most of the paperwork is completed online. The State Department provides hyperlinks that connect prospective applicants to the required forms. For TN visas, applicants will fill out a DS-160 and upload a photograph. After the application is completed, the applicant will print the application and schedule an interview.
Interviews are not required for anyone 13 and under and 80 or older. It is required for everyone else. The applicant must schedule the appointment through the embassy or consulate. Prior to the interview, the applicant must pay a mandatory $160 application fee.
The interview is conducted by a Consulate officer and isn’t generally long. The officer will ask the applicant to produce the required documents to prove that they are a professional and that they have a job in the United States.
- All applicants must bring a passport that is valid for at least six months beyond the TN visa period of stay.
- Copy of DS-160 application and confirmation page.
- Receipt for application fee.
- One passport photo. Typically the online upload should cover this but if it failed, the interviewer will require another one, so it is good idea to bring a spare.
- Documentation establishing that the applicant meets the minimum required education and certification. For example diplomas, degrees, certificates and licenses.
- A contract or letter of employment establishing that the applicant has a job waiting for them in the United States.
TN visa holders may bring their dependents and spouse with them into the United States under the TD visa program. TD visa holders may remain in the United States as long as their TN visa parent or spouse. TD visa holders are not permitted to work but they may attend university. For dependents, the TD visa expires on their 21st birthday.
The visa can be renewed indefinitely in three-year increments. So long as the visa holder has a job, they can renew their visa.
The TN visa, unlike H1-B, does not allow for “dual intent.” Dual intent allows visa holders to apply for a work visa with the understanding that they will eventually apply for a green card. The TN visa does not allow applicants to apply for green cards. Prospective permanent residents must leave the United States and reapply for entry under permanent status.
Additionally, the TN visa is only good so long as the visa holder has a job. If the job ends, the visa holder must vacate their residence in the United States, unless they find alternative employment. Finally, TN visas are approved based upon the discretion of the border agent.