How to Change Your Status from a TN Visa to a Marriage Green Card


Everything Canadians and Mexicans need to know about switching from TN status to a spousal visa


The TN visa can be a great way for Canadian and Mexican citizens to come and work in the United States in certain specialized occupations. But what if you fall in love and marry a U.S. citizen or green card holder?

The good news is that as the spouse of a U.S. citizen or green card holder, you can usually switch from a TN visa to a marriage-based green card, also known as a spousal visa. Your marriage green card will let you live and work permanently in the United States, and will give you a pathway to becoming a U.S. citizen.

However, TN holders face some special challenges when seeking a spousal visa. It’s important to understand all the rules and requirements before you file your green card application.

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Applying for a marriage green card is a big step. For a flat rate of $950, Boundless helps you complete your entire marriage-based green card (spousal visa) application — including all required forms and supporting documents, independent attorney review, and support. Learn more about what Boundless offers, or check your eligibility for a green card today.


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What the “90 Day Rule” Means for TN Visa Holders


The TN visa is similar to other temporary employment visas, such as the H-1B and L-1 visas, but there’s one big difference: the TN visa is not a “dual intent” visa. That means that when you enter the country on a TN visa, you’re declaring an intention to leave the country before your visa expires, and not to try to immigrate permanently.

That’s important because if you apply for a green card after entering the United States on a TN visa, you could be deemed to have misrepresented your reasons for entering the country. If you’re found to have lied to Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers when you first entered the United States, your green card application could be denied, and your TN visa could be revoked.

To avoid that, it’s important to understand the “90-day rule,” a special guideline used by immigration officers to determine whether a green card applicant was honest about their original reasons for traveling to the United States.

How the 90-day rule works

If you apply for a green card within the first 90 days of entering the United States, the U.S. government will presume that you “willfully misrepresented” your reason for coming — in other words, that you came to the United States with the intention of immigrating, rather than simply to work temporarily under the terms of your TN visa.

You may still be able to convince the U.S. government that you originally intended to honor the terms of your TN visa, but it will be a challenge. See this article for more details about the 90-day rule.

If you apply for a green card more than 90 days after entering the United States, the U.S. government will generally presume that your circumstances or intentions changed after you entered the country, and that you did not “willfully misrepresent” your reason for coming. In such cases, your green card application will usually be allowed to proceed.

It’s important to understand that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) officials can use their own judgement, and could still rule against you if they find additional evidence that you misrepresented your intentions in coming to the United States.

Calculating 90 days

To determine when the 90-day rule would apply, check your I-94 travel record (officially called the “Form I-94 Arrival/Departure Record”), find the date of your most recent entry to the United States, then add 90 days. For example, if the entry date on your I-94 is April 1, 2018, 90 days later would be June 30, 2018.

Do you have confidential questions about how your situation might affect your green card application? With Boundless, you get an independent immigration attorney who can help you understand your options. ; Learn more, or  check your eligibility for free.


Your Paths to Getting a Green Card


As a Canadian or Mexican TN visa holder, your pathway to a green card will depend on whether you’re married to a U.S. citizen or a green card holder, and on whether you apply via Adjustment of Status (AOS) or consular processing.

Adjustment of Status is the process used by most applicants currently in the United States. Your whole application will be handled by USCIS, allowing you to complete the process without leaving the country. You’ll also be able to apply for a work permit so that you can keep working lawfully if your TN visa expires before you receive your green card. However, AOS applicants must be careful to avoid triggering the 90-day rule.

Consular processing is the process used by most applicants not currently resident in the United States. In some circumstances, it can also be used by applicants resident in the US as a way to avoid triggering the 90-day rule. Your application will be handled by a U.S. consulate or embassy in your home country, and you’ll have to return to your home country for a medical examination and consular interview.

Let’s look more closely at your options:

Path 1: If you’re married to a U.S. citizen and use AOS

As the spouse of a U.S. citizen applying for a green card via AOS, you will follow the same procedure for most other spouses living in the United States and married to a U.S. citizen. You and your spouse will file the following forms, typically at the same time (you can file these separately, but doing so is unusual in most cases):

  1. The family sponsorship form — or Form I-130 (officially called the “Petition for Alien Relative”) — to be completed and signed by your spouse who is a U.S. citizen
  2. The green card application — or Form I-485 (officially called the “Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status”) — to be completed and signed by you, the J-1 exchange visitor

Once you’ve filed your AOS application, you’ll be able to remain in the United States even if your TN visa expires. You’ll also be able to apply for a work permit and “advance parole” travel document along with your application. These will allow you to continue working in the United States, and to travel outside the United States while your application is being processed.

As long as you don’t trigger the 90-day rule, and can show that you married your spouse “in good faith” — meaning you did not marry just to obtain a spousal visa — your green card should arrive within 10 to 13 months from the time USCIS receives your application package.

Boundless takes your green card application forms and turns them into simple questions you can answer online, typically in under two hours, compared with days or weeks the traditional way. Learn more about our services, or check if you qualify for a marriage-based green card — without providing any personal information.

Path 2: If you’re married to a U.S. citizen and use consular processing

If you’re worried about triggering the 90-day rule, you can apply for a green card via consular processing. This approach is typically used by applicants residing outside the United States, but can also be initiated from within the United States.

If you apply via consular processing, you’ll have to return to your home country for an interview and medical examination. Because you’ll leave the United States before gaining your green card, you won’t have to worry about the 90-day rule. This is the safest way to go from a TN status to a green card. By electing to go through consular processing rather than AOS, you avoid any possibility of the consular officer ruling that you misrepresented your intentions.

Unlike AOS applicants, however, consular processing applicants can’t remain in the United States or gain employment authorization if their TN visa expires before their green card is ready. Make sure you understand the timeline for getting a green card before you begin your application.

When filing via consular processing, you’ll follow much the same process used by the spouses of U.S. citizens living abroad:

  1. You’ll first need to file the family sponsorship form (Form I-130) (officially called the “Petition for Alien Relative”) with USCIS.
  2. Once your I-130 is approved, your case will be transferred to the National Visa Center (NVC). You’ll pay your fees, file the DS-260 (immigrant visa application) online, and mail in your supporting documents.
  3. Your application will be forwarded to a consulate or embassy in your home country, and you’ll be given a time and date for your consular interview. You’ll also need to complete a medical examination in your home country before attending the interview.

The whole process, from start to finish, typically takes 11-17 months, and as long as you have a valid TN visa you’ll only need to leave the country at the end of that period for the consular interview. Your application might be approved on the spot during your consular interview, but it’s also possible to receive a request for evidence (RFE) or a follow-up interview. In that case, you might have to remain in your home country while you wait for a final decision.

IMPORTANT! You should be wary about traveling overseas after filing your I-130, since your pending green card application shows that you plan to immigrate. That’s against the terms of your TN visa, and could lead to you being refused entry when returning to the United States.

Sound complicated? Don’t worry! With Boundless, you get an independent immigration attorney who can answer all legal questions related to your application. Boundless also makes the whole application process easy by turning all the government requirements into simple questions you can answer online — on your own time. Learn more about how Boundless can help you switch from TN status to a marriage green card, or check your eligibility for free.

Path 3: If you’re married to a green card holder

If you’re married to a green card holder, you can apply for a green card either through AOS or consular processing. However, you’ll first need to wait for a green card to become available for you, which might limit your options. In many cases, you’ll need to leave the United States and complete your application using consular processing.

Either way, you’ll first need to file the family sponsorship form, or Form I-130. Once the Form I-130 is approved by USCIS, you must wait for a visa number showing that a green card is available. Visa numbers are immediately available to spouses of U.S. citizens, but spouses of green card holders must wait.

If a visa number becomes available before your TN visa expires, you’ll be able to stay in the United States and apply for a green card using AOS. You can also apply from within the United States using consular processing, but if your TN visa expires before your green card is approved you’ll have to leave the country to avoid falling out of status.

If a visa number becomes available after your TN visa expires, you’ll have to return to your home country and complete your green card application via consular processing.

To apply via AOS, you’ll follow the same application process used by most other U.S.-resident spouses of green card holders. That means filing Form I-485 (officially called the “Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status”). The whole process typically takes 29-38 months, but you’ll be able to remain in the United States and get a work permit allowing you to keep working even if your TN visa expires before your green card is issued.

To apply via consular processing, you’ll follow much the same process used by most applicants living abroad and married to a green card holder. You’ll need to file the DS-260 online, and if you apply from within the United States you’ll have to return to your home country for a medical exam and consular interview. The whole process typically takes 23-32 months, and you won’t be able to remain in the United States if your TN visa expires before your green card is approved.

Bear in mind that if you begin an application through AOS, you’ll have to be careful not to trigger the 90-day rule, but you’ll be able to remain in the United States and request permission to work even after your TN visa expires. If you use consular processing, you’ll avoid any problems with the 90-day rule, but you’ll have to leave the country before your TN visa expires in order to avoid falling out of status.

Remember, if your spouse who is a green card holder becomes a U.S. citizen while you’re waiting for a visa number, you can upgrade your application and submit your green card application right away.

IMPORTANT! If you use consular processing from within the United States, you should be wary about traveling overseas after filing your I-130, since your pending green card application shows that you plan to immigrate. That’s against the terms of your TN visa, and could lead to you being refused entry when returning to the United States.

Whatever path you take, Boundless can help you complete your entire marriage-based green card application for a flat fee of $950. That includes all required forms and supporting documents, independent attorney review, and support. Learn more, or check your eligibility now!


Special Considerations


  • Don’t count on renewing your TN visa. Once you apply for a green card, you’re signaling your intent to immigrate to the United States. That will make getting a TN visa extension very difficult, since it’s a temporary visa that doesn’t allow immigrant intent.
  • Don’t overstay on your TN visa. If you stay in the United States beyond the duration of your TN visa, other than after filing an AOS application, you will fall out of status. This could affect your eligibility for other visas, or lead to you being barred from the United States for several years. Check with a lawyer before leaving the country if you find you’ve slipped out of status.