The TN visa is a professional work visa especially for Canadian and Mexican nationals based on the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The TN visa boasts a relatively simple application process and other advantages over other common work visa types. Like the more common H-1B visa, the TN is generally for professionals who are being offered a job that requires at least a bachelor’s degree, but is limited to certain specific occupations, which each have specific requirements, as described in Appendix 1603.D.1 of NAFTA. The supply of TN visas is unlimited, as the visa is not subject to an annual cap, unlike the H-1B visa, allowing Canadians and Mexicans to obtain a TN at any time without being subjected to a visa lottery. TN status is generally issued for up to three years at a time and theoretically can be renewed in three-year increments for an unlimited amount of time. In addition, the TN can be obtained at the US consulate or even directly at the border, in the case of Canadians, without having to first obtain an approval from the US immigration service (USCIS), meaning that it is relatively quick and easy to get, generally speaking, compared to virtually all other US work visas, even under the current administration’s strict immigration-related adjudication policies.
While remaining one of the simplest and quickest visas to get, the TN visa does have some disadvantages. One is the fact that it is a non-immigrant visa, which means that the visa holder cannot intend to reside in the U.S. permanently and must maintain ties to his or her home country. Therefore, if a TN visa holder does want to eventually apply for permanent residence (a “green card”), a careful legal strategy is necessary to ensure continued compliance with the TN visa and its non-immigrant intent requirement during the green card process. Options such as switching to a “dual-intent” visa, such as an H-1B or L-1, may be discussed with an immigration attorney. In addition, although Canadians may apply for TN status directly at a port of entry at the US border, Mexican nationals must apply for the visa at a US consulate abroad. The TN visa was also rumored to have been in danger of disappearing during the Trump administration’s renegotiation of NAFTA, but it appears to be unchanged. However, like most all other immigration benefits under the Trump administration, this relatively simple visa has become more difficult to get under Trump’s “extreme vetting” policies.
Nevertheless, the TN visa remains a very advantageous visa that allows theoretically unlimited stays in the US for Canadian and Mexican professionals who maintain either full- or part-time professional employment here and a relatively quick and flexible application and renewal process. If the TN visa holder loses his or her job, for example, they may be eligible for a 60-day “grace period”, which may allow them to find another TN-eligible position. If they find a new visa sponsoring employer they may either apply to extend their TN status by filing a petition with USCIS, or they may leave the US and apply directly at the border, if they are Canadian, or at a US consulate, if they are Mexican, to extend their TN status with the new sponsoring employer, if necessary.
Canadians and Mexicans considering accepting employment in the US, or US employers considering hiring Canadian or Mexican nationals, should check the TN professional occupation list and consult with an immigration attorney to determine if the job and the employee qualify for the TN visa.
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