TN Status, Explained
Understanding the TN work visa 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.
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What is TN Status?
TN (Trade NAFTA) status is a nonimmigrant employment visa which allows Canadian and Mexican citizens who work in specific professional occupations to work in the United States. The arrangement is open to citizens from these countries under the former North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), now known as the U.S.-Mexico-Canada (USMCA) agreement, which created special 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. TN status is valid for up to three years, and is indefinitely renewable.
What Do I Need to be Eligible For the TN Visa?
In order 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 engineer, lawyer, social worker, and dentist.
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.
What Will I Need to Apply for TN Status?
The process for applying for TN authorization for Canadian and Mexican citizens 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’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.