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TN Status, Explained

Understanding the TN work visa for NAFTA professionals for Canadian and Mexican citizens

If you’re a Canadian or Mexican citizen with a job offer in the United States, congratulations – you may be eligible to enter on TN status.

For Canadian and Mexican citizens who work in certain specialty occupations, the TN visa can be a great way to work in the United States. If you are eligible, it’s one of the quickest and most straightforward U.S. work authorizations to get.



What is a TN visa?

A TN visa, also known as a Trade NAFTA visa is a nonimmigrant visa that allows Canadian and Mexican citizens who work in specific professional occupations (NAFTA professionals) to work in the United States. It is a temporary visa, with an initial validity of up to three years, but it can be renewed indefinitely as long as the holder continues to meet the eligibility requirements.

The visa is available to citizens from Mexico and Canada under the former North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), now known as the U.S.-Mexico-Canada (USMCA) agreement, which created unique economic and trade relationships for the United States, Canada, and Mexico.

Entering on TN authorization allows qualified Canadian and Mexican citizens to stay and work in the United States, as long as their U.S. job offer falls under a list of NAFTA professions.


What Do I Need to be Eligible For the TN Visa?

To be eligible for TN status, you will need:

  • Proof of your Canadian or Mexican citizenship, such as a passport
  • A pre-arranged full-time or part-time job in the United States with a U.S. employer or a foreign employer with a U.S. entity
  • Qualifications to practice, such as a bachelor’s or master’s degree

Your job should also fall under the list of 60 NAFTA professions. Examples of NAFTA professions include engineers, lawyers, social workers, and dentists.


How Do I Apply for TN Status?

If you are a Canadian citizen, you can either:

  • Apply directly at a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) port of entry when entering the U.S. or
  • Have your employer submit the TN application along with Form I-129 to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and then seek entry once approved at a U.S. port of entry

If you are a Mexican citizen, you will need to submit the paperwork to a U.S. embassy or consulate along with Form DS-160, attend an interview, receive a visa number, and then seek entry at a U.S. port of entry.


Is a TN visa better than an H-1B?


Choosing the right visa between TN and H-1B hinges on your unique situation and what you value most. Each option offers its own set of advantages and disadvantages, making it vital to weigh both carefully before deciding. Here’s a comparative overview to assist in your decision-making process:

Advantages of TN Visa:

  • No limit or lottery system: The TN visa has no annual limit, offering a more straightforward path to working in the U.S. than the H-1B.
  • Quicker processing times: Generally, TN visas are processed more swiftly than H-1B visas.
  • No requirement for dual intent: TN visa applicants do not need to prove immigrant intent, which may ease the path to a future green card.
  • Lower cost: The application fees for a TN visa are less than those for an H-1B.
  • Extendable indefinitely: There’s no fixed maximum duration of stay, though periodic renewals are necessary.

Disadvantages of TN vs. H-1B

  • Occupation-specific: Eligibility is limited to certain professions outlined in the NAFTA agreement.
  • Stringent re-entry conditions: Re-entering the US may be required after extended periods abroad.
  • Employer-specific: Changing jobs necessitates a new TN visa application.

H-1B Visa vs. TN Visa Advantages

  • Broader occupational eligibility: Encompasses a wider array of professional occupations than the TN visa.
  • Dual intent is permissible: Facilitates the pursuit of permanent residency while on the visa.
  • Job portability: Allows for changing employers without the need to apply for a new visa.

Disadvantages:

  • Limited availability: Subject to an annual quota and a competitive lottery, making it more challenging to secure.
  • Longer processing times: Typically, H-1B visas take longer to process than TN visas.
  • Dual intent challenges: Seeking a green card while on an H-1B visa introduces additional complexities and potential roadblocks.
  • Higher expenses: Application fees for H-1B visas exceed those for TN visas.
  • Fixed term of stay: Initially allows for a 6-year stay, with possible extensions under certain conditions.

Your decision should ultimately be guided by:

  • Your profession: Whether it is specifically listed under the TN agreement or falls into a broader category.
  • Your priorities: Whether you emphasize ease of obtaining the visa and cost-effectiveness or flexibility in employment and the pathway to permanent residency.
  • Your timeline: Whether you can afford to wait through the H-1B lottery or require a more immediate visa solution.

What Will I Need to Apply for TN Status?

The process for Canadian and Mexican citizens to apply for TN authorization is different, but the requirements are similar. For every TN application, you will need:

  • A TN support letter from your employer summarizing your job, the NAFTA profession chosen, your qualifications, and other basic information (salary, length of employment, etc.)
    • Proof of your qualifications for the role, such as transcripts or diplomas. Where possible, these should be the original copy
  • Your application fee

If you are Canadian, your employer can also file Form I-129 (“Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker”) in addition to the core TN application on your behalf. Once this is approved, you can enter the United States with your passport and the approval notice from USCIS. If you are Mexican, you will need to file Form DS-160 (“Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application”) in addition to the core TN application to apply for a TN visa at a U.S. embassy or consulate.

For both Canadians and Mexicans on a nonimmigrant status in the U.S., you can use Form I-129 to adjust your status to TN, or to reapply for TN for renewals or new employment.


TN Visa FAQs

No, only citizens of Canada or Mexico in specialty occupations may enter and work in the United States under TN authorization.

Your job title does not have to match the NAFTA category perfectly. The NAFTA professional categories are pretty broad, and often without specific definitions. This means that a wide range of professional jobs in the United States can qualify for TN status, with the proper approach and corresponding application and within reason.

Depending on their citizenship, your spouse and any children under the age of 21 may be eligible to join you under TD (TN-Dependent) status.

If your spouse and children are Canadian citizens, they will not need a visa before they enter the United States. When they arrive at a port of entry, they will simply need to prove their Canadian citizenship, their relationship to you, and that you have been allowed to enter the United States under the TN category. They can bring documents such as their passport, a marriage or birth certificate, and a photocopy of your admission documents to demonstrate this.

Non-Canadian spouses and children must apply for a TD nonimmigrant visa at a U.S. embassy or consulate before entering the United States. In cases where non-Canadian dependents would like to travel together with the Canadian to the United States, the Canadian using TN status would first need to apply for a TN visa at a U.S. embassy or consulate to enable their dependents to apply for TD visas.

The TD visa does not allow family members of TN visa holders to work, but they are able to study.

There are two ways to extend your TN status. For both Canadians and Mexicans, you can arrange for your employer (or a new employer) to file Form I-129 on your behalf while you remain in the country. For Canadians, you can leave the United States before your status expires, and apply again at a U.S. port of entry for TN status.

If you’re planning to transition from a TN visa to a marriage green card, Boundless can help you navigate this path. Learn more about what Boundless offers.

If you’ve been in the U.S. for at least three years on TN status, you may be considered a resident foreigner, or what the IRS calls a “resident alien,” for tax purposes. This is based on the number of days you’ve spent in the U.S. over a three-year period. If you live in Canada or Mexico and commute to the U.S. to work, however, then you are not considered a resident.

You can only work in the U.S. for the employer named on your TN visa. If you’d like to work for someone else or change companies, you will need to re-apply for a visa.

Unlike other temporary work visas, the TN visa is not a “dual-intent” visa. This means that when you enter the U.S., you’re signalling that you won’t try to permanently move to the U.S..

Of course, there may be circumstances where you decide to marry a U.S. citizen or green card holder while you are in the U.S., and are therefore eligible for a green card. If this happens, you may be able to stay in the U.S. and adjust your status. If you’re interested in changing your status from a TN visa to a marriage green card, Boundless can help you through the process. Learn more.

Yes, you can study either part-time or full-time in the U.S., but you will still need to follow the conditions of your original TN visa. If your TN status expires before the end of your course, then you can choose to return to your home country, extend your TN visa or change your status to a F-1, M-1 or J-1 visa.

Both the TN visas and H-1B visas can be great options for work authorization in the U.S.. For most people, the TN visa can be a quick, cost-effective option, however it is only available to Canadian and Mexican citizens (not permanent-residents), and to be eligible, your profession must be one of those on the list of TN-qualifying specialty occupations. The H-1B visa, on the other hand, is open to citizens of any country and can be used for any occupation that requires a bachelor’s degree or equivalent.

It depends on your profession. To be eligible for a TN visa, you will need to show that you’re a qualified professional in one of the approved specialty occupations with a bachelor’s degree. Depending on your industry however, an alternative such as a post-secondary certificate and three years’ experience may be acceptable to show that you’re a qualified professional.

If you lose your job while on a TN visa, you have a grace period of 60 days to find another employer, change your status, or prepare to leave the U.S. You can learn more about navigating layoffs on work visas in Boundless’ guide.

Depending on the complexity of your case, or if you simply want additional peace of mind during the process, it may be helpful to enlist an immigration lawyer’s help for your TN visa application. Lawyers can help you navigate the TN forms, supporting documents, and interview process. If you’re not sure whether an immigration lawyer is the best option for you, Boundless put together a detailed guide on when to hire an attorney for your visa process here.


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