The TN visa is a special visa that allows Canadian and Mexican citizens to work in the USA. The TN visa is a result of the North American Free Trade Agreement that is intended on making it easier for citizens in Canada, Mexico and the USA to freely engage in professional business activities on a temporary basis. Although there is no yearly quota on the number of TN visas issued, and each 3 year TN visa can be renewed indefinitely, it is not meant to replace a green card. It is basically a special privileged “H-1B visa” for Canadian and Mexican citizens of specific business professions.
Who is eligible
Firstly, the visa applicant must be a citizen of Canada or Mexico. They cannot have any other immigration status in America. Secondly, their employment must be temporary, much like the H-1b visa that usually the employment results in a green card filing for the employee because good talent must be retained. Lastly, the jobs that the TN visa applicant is to engaged in must be defined in the trade agreement. The list of designated professional occupation that is eligible for TN visas is here. You will see that the list of professions typically require university level education such as a bachelor’s degree. It is usually best that the degree was awarded in a US university/college. If the degree is from Canada or Mexico, sometimes the USCIS will require academic evaluation from a credential evaluation service.
Additional information for specific occupations
From the list of occupations, there are some occupations that have special rules. Here are specific rules for the following occupations:
- Physicians – limited to a teach/research role. A TN physician cannot be engaged in clinical care, direct care, residency, or internships. Treating a patient through research/teach is permitted.
- Nurses – Canadian nurses must also obtain license to practice nursing from the state they intended on performing their job
- Medical Lab Tech - radiological technologists, respiratory specialists and nuclear medicine technologist are excluded and prohibited from using TN visas to engage in work
- Healthcare Workers – not all health care workers can use the TN visa to work in America. It must be explicitly listed in the trade agreement.
- Management Consultants – only those who are either independent consultants coming to America for a specific project, consulting firms that are contracted by a US company or employees of US companies hired for a temporary project and not permanent employees.
- Computer systems analyst – cannot be computer programmers.
Maximum duration of stay
Each visa is awarded at a 3 year increment and can be renewed indefinitely. Keep in mind though, it does not substitute a green card and so if an individual uses TN visa continuously, it is pretty obvious the job is not temporary and the USCIS will forbid the individual to continue to enter as a TN visa holder.
Travel internationally on a TN visa
Travel in and out of the US is perfectly ok on a valid TN visa. Make sure you have a passport that is valid for 6 months and bring the original I-94 that you received when you entered the first time into America.
How to Apply
Canadians can simply apply for TN visa at an airport or port-of-entry while entering the US. You just need the required documentations:
- Job offer specifying exact job role, duties, length of stay, salary
- Valid passport
- Academic transcripts and degree
- Academic evaluation, if school is not in Canada or US
- Information about the employer
- Fee for I-94
For Mexicans, you must apply at a US Consulate/Embassy. You need to be interviewed and also fingerprinted. The process to get a TN visa is similar to getting any other visa to enter America. You have to apply through the Department of State and in addition to the above documents, you also need
- Form DS-160
- 2×2 Passport Photos
- Visa application fee
Canadians can simply apply for an extension at a US-Canadian pre-flight or port-of-entry (airport). Mexicans must apply through filing a I-129. Canadians can also use the I-129 if they do not with to leave the country and return with a new TN visa. The process is typical, requiring:
- Copy of I-94
- Copy of visa stamp
- Copy of passport ID page showing validity
- TN job offer letter
- Information on the employer
- Fee, currently at $320.
The USCIS recommends that you file at least 45 days before the expiration of the TN visa. It can be filed up to 6 months in advance of an expiring TN visa. If you filed a I-129 and then your I-94 expires before you receive an adjudication of the I-129, you have 240 days to continue employment while the I-129 is pending. Keep in mind, if you receive a rejected TN extension letter, you must stop working and leave the country. Traveling during a TN visa extension is highly risky and not recommended because in order to file a I-129 extension, you are required to be physically present in the country. There is no appeal to a denial of extension.