While the United States offers various options for foreigners seeking longer-term entry into the United States, the TN non-immigrant visa program offers wide-ranging benefits — not only to the visa holders, but to U.S. employers as well. If you’re a professional from Mexico or Canada seeking to come to the United States for work, a TN visa may be your best choice.
What is a TN Visa?
A TN visa is a type of non-immigrant visa, meaning that it does not lead to permanent residency or citizenship. The Trade National (TN) visa program allows qualifying Mexican and Canadian citizens to enter the United States on a temporary basis to engage in professional business activities.
Professionals that commonly take advantage of the TN visa include animal caretakers, veterinarians, accountants, engineers, lawyers, scientists, and professors. These individuals are known as NAFTA professionals, because the visa program was created as part of the North American Free Trade Agreement and is open only to individuals in certain qualifying professions.
TN Visa Regulations
As a non-immigrant visa, a TN visa grants successful applicants in the professions specified by the regulations up to three years in the U.S., although extensions are available. Aside from being open only to Canadian and Mexican nationals, the TN visa program requires all of the following:
- Individuals’ professions are allowed under the TN visa program’s regulations
- The position in the U.S. they’d be filling requires a NAFTA professional
- Individuals have arranged employment with a U.S. employer (self-employment is not allowed)
- Individuals have the needed qualifications to practice in their profession
Because of the specialized nature of the jobs filled by TN visa holders, the United States also allows their spouse and unmarried, minor children to accompany them into the U.S. These immediate family members do not require a specific visa if they are Canadian citizens; they need only meet U.S. Customs and Border Protection requirements for admission at a port of entry. However, Mexican citizens must apply for TD non-immigrant visas and prove that the TN visa holder’s status is valid.
The TN Visa Process
The TN visa application process differs for applicants from Canada and Mexico. Since Canadians are generally able to travel into the United States freely without a visa, they can simply apply for the visa when seeking entry into the country. At that time, they can establish their eligibility for the TN visa with U.S. Customs and Border Patrol at certain designated ports of entry. Applicants must:
- Supply proof of Canadian citizenship, and
- Provide a letter from the prospective employer explaining:
- The work to be performed for the employer
- The purpose of the employment
- The applicant’s intended length of stay
- The applicant’s qualifications to do the job
- Submit their credentials for evaluation and pay the applicable fee
Alternatively, if the employee is in the U.S., a prospective employer may apply for the visa on behalf of a Canadian citizen using Form I-129, Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker, and submitting a completed form to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
For Mexican citizens, the process is a bit different because Mexican citizens can’t seek entry into the U.S. without a visa. The multi-step process for Mexican citizens includes:
- Applying using Form DS-160, which can be completed online
- Uploading a photo to accompany the application that conforms to the photograph requirements
- Printing the application confirmation page upon submitting their completed DS-160
- Scheduling an interview at a consulate or embassy
- Paying the required, nonrefundable visa application fee
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Applicants may prepare for their visa interview by gathering the needed documentation, including:
- A valid passport that will remain valid for a minimum of six months beyond the applicant’s intended stay in the United States
- The completed Form DS-160 and the application fee payment receipt
- A photo (if the online photo upload failed during the application process)
- An employment contract or letter of employment from the U.S. company that explains the business activities to be performed by the applicant, their anticipated length of employment, and their qualifications and professional credentials as they relate to the job
- Documentation that applicants’ work experience and education meet the minimums set forth in the program’s regulations
Following approval, Mexican applicants may apply for admission into the country at certain CBP-designated ports of entry or preflight inspection stations.
TN visa holders wishing to extend their stay will need their employers to submit a new Form I-129 for them. Alternatively, TN visa holders may leave the U.S. before their TN visa expires and apply for an extension at a CBP-designated port of entry or preflight inspection station. The extension process requires the same application and documentation procedures followed for the initial visa application.
How to Navigate the TN Visa Process
Former president Donald Trump pushed through some drastic changes to NAFTA in a new agreement, the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), which went into effect in July 2020. Fortunately, the new agreement left the TN program unchanged. As legislators increasingly eye issues related to immigration, it’s unclear whether any regulatory changes are on the horizon for this program.
Additionally, TN visas are just one type of U.S. work visa available to employers. If you’re unsure whether the TN visa program is the most suitable for your needs, the team at Farmer Law can walk you through all available options.
Finally, because of the myriad and differing requirements in the TN visa process for Mexican and Canadian citizens, it’s a good idea to work with an attorney with experience helping professionals navigate the TN visa process.
Contact Farmer Law today for help using the TN visa program to further your career.
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