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How to Prepare for the TN Visa Interview With Customs and Border Protection

Jun 7, 2021

Immigrants applying for a TN visa

Canadians applying for TN status can file the application when seeking entry to the United States at Customs and Border Protection (CBP), without needing a visa ahead of time.

As part of the application process, one or multiple CBP officers may interview you to determine whether you and the job you hold qualify for TN status. This adjudication happens on the spot, and they will make a decision right away.

This article helps prepare Canadian “walk-up” applicants for the interview that is part of submitting the application to CBP. Note that if you have a TN visa in your passport or you have a pre-approval notice from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, this post does not apply to you.

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How to Prepare For the CBP Interview

US Customs and Border Protection Sign

1. Decide where you will lodge the application. All U.S. CBP ports of entry are capable of processing Canadian TN applicants, but they come in different forms:

  • Land border: entering the U.S. by land from Canada or Mexico

This option is the most straightforward, but please note that ports of entry on the Canada-U.S. border will be more familiar with “walk-up” applications than those on the southern border.

IMPORTANT: Due to the coronavirus pandemic, both land borders are closed to non-essential travel. TN, however, is considered essential as a work visa, so you may still apply and enter via a land border. If your TN application is not approved, you will be turned back to either Canada or Mexico, where you may be subject to quarantine requirements.

  • Airport pre-clearance: apply before you physically reach the United States

CBP offers pre-clearance facilities in Canada and numerous other countries around the world, where travelers clear U.S. immigration and customs in the departure airport prior to boarding their flight to the United States.

IMPORTANT: During COVID-19, Canadians may still travel to the United States by air, including on TN status. Applying for TN at a Canadian airport with pre-clearance facilities may be a smart option because you are not subject to Canadian quarantine requirements in the case the TN application is not approved and you are turned back to Canada.

  • First port of entry into the United States: applying once physically reaching the United States

If you do not travel to the United States via a land border or a CBP pre-clearance facility, you will apply for TN status upon arriving at your first port of entry in the U.S.. These ports of entry receive fewer TN applications than ones related to Canada (e.g., Canada-U.S. land border and pre-clearance facilities in Canada), so be aware that the experience may be less consistent.

This means that if your flight includes layovers, you will submit your TN application at the first arrival airport. For example, if your flight path is London-Chicago-Denver, then you will lodge the application in Chicago when you enter the United States.

Please check specific CBP options to decide which one is best for you. There are 14 ports that are optimized to process Canadian TN applications. It is recommended to apply during working hours, if possible. Some ports (e.g. Buffalo, New York) now take appointments and documents ahead of time.

2. Have the right documents

Make sure you have all the required documents in your possession when you land. Here is a checklist:

  • TN support letter, with a wet signature from the employer
  • Canadian passport with validity longer than the length of employment
  • Original diplomas and transcripts
  • Original professional licenses, if applicable
  • Credential evaluations, if applicable
  • Official English translations, if applicable
  • Payment method for the $50 application fee

3. Know your role

You will need to be able to speak to how the offered role is within the designated NAFTA category on your TN support letter. While the company internal job title does not need to match the NAFTA category exactly, you need to show that your roles and responsibilities are in line with the selected NAFTA category. For example, if your internal title is Senior Software Engineer, you will need to argue that your duties fit under the Engineer category as stated in your support letter.

Please refer to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Outlook Handbook (OOH) to get more details on how the NAFTA categories may be defined in relation to your role.

4. May not have immigrant intent

TN is a nonimmigrant status, meaning it does not offer a direct path to permanent immigrant status in the United States. If you have the intention or want to live in the United States permanently, your application will be denied and you are unlikely to be granted TN status in the future. The Border officer will likely ask questions about your intent during the application. You must be able to testify that your employment on TN status is temporary in nature and that you will not immigrate to the United States.

Being on TN status, however, does not preclude you from adjusting to other statuses if your intent changes later. For example, if you marry a U.S. citizen while on TN status, you can adjust to a green card from TN.

One way of demonstrating your nonimmigrant intent is to provide evidence of lasting ties to Canada (or another country) including Canadian bank accounts, ownership of Canadian property, or membership in Canadian organizations.

5. Check your I-94 for accuracy

If you are approved, you should receive a standard stamp in your passport from CBP indicating your TN status, the NAFTA category your role is in, your employer, and when your TN status is valid until. This is typically handwritten by the CBP officer. Before leaving CBP, please check that this information is accurate.

Once you leave CBP, it is important to go online to check your I-94, which keeps a record of your admission to the United States. You should check here that you have indeed been admitted to the United States on TN status and that the dates are correct. Your electronic I-94 record controls your immigration status and work expiration date in the United States, and needs to be submitted to your employer for them to verify your status.

What Happens if the Application is not Approved?

A Canadian ID card

With a strong application reviewed by immigration attorneys, it is unlikely that you will encounter serious issues at CBP. There are circumstances, however, where your application will not be approved and here are some outcomes:

  • CBP may ask you to withdraw your application if they believe the application is inadequate. If an application is withdrawn, it is treated more favorably compared to a denial, so it may be wise to accept the offer to withdraw. You may also withdraw your application at any point during the interview by declaring so to CBP, so please exercise judgement to decide if and when you should voluntarily withdraw.
  • There are cases where CBP will deny your application. In these cases, the denial will result in a record on your file and you will encounter more difficulties entering the United States in the future, so it is highly recommended to withdraw your application if the interview is going unfavorably.

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