Nonimmigrant Visas: Understanding TN Status

If you own a business that employs Canadian or Mexican citizens, or you are a professional from either of those countries, you might consider NAFTA to be one of your best friends. NAFTA stands for the “North American Free Trade Agreement,” which was agreed upon by the three biggest North American countries in the early 1990s and went into effect in 1994.

Though controversial to some, the trade bloc agreement opened the door for TN status, a nonimmigrant designation that allows certain citizens from Canada to enter the US without a visa for work purposes, and certain citizens from Mexico to enter the US for work purposes through a generally more streamlined visa process.

The purpose of TN status is to allow US employers to employ Canadian and Mexican citizens who are professionals in certain fields at their respective businesses on US soil for a temporary period of time. TN stands for “Treaty NAFTA,” and the status is similar to the H-1B visa. However, these two measures differ in that TN status is reserved for our northern and southern neighbors, has no yearly limit like the H-1B, and is adjudicated by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials at ports-of-entry into the US.

TN status is good for three years and can be theoretically renewed indefinitely for periods of three years each.  However, if CBP suspects that TN status is being used as a de facto green card, then they may not renew the designation.  This can be a drawback of utilizing TN status because the acceptance process at the border could be subjective to the mood of a particular agent on a given day.

Achieving TN status is simpler for Canadian citizens than Mexican citizens. If a Canadian is trained to work in one of the qualifying TN professions and they receive an offer of employment from a US employer in that field, they can be granted TN-1 status at the border. They simply bring proof of the offer of employment (like an offer letter) and evidence of their qualifications (like a college degree or proof of previous employment in the field) to the border along with proof of Canadian citizenship, and the border agent grants or denies TN status and entry to the US on the spot. They must return to the border for renewal.

Mexican citizens, on the other hand, must go to a US consulate and first apply for a TN-2 visa, before then going to the border and following a similar procedure to Canadians with TN status for entry to the US for employment purposes.

Those who are granted TN status can also bring immediate family with them under TD status. Family members cannot work in the US but they can go to school here.

TN status can be an affordable and simplified way to work in the United Status for Mexican and Canadian citizens. To find out if you work in a qualifying profession or to learn more about gaining TN status and working in the US as a nonpermanent resident, give us a call to talk about your options.


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