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The TN visa was created by NAFTA to facilitate temporary employment in the United States for approved Canadian and Mexican citizens. Citizens of USMCA countries (formerly NAFTA) can temporarily work in the U.S. by holding a TN visa. In the past 13 years, we have seen great growth in the number of TN visas approved and many of those were to fill labor shortages in the U.S. While the name of the agreement changed, the TN status requirements and process are the same for Mexican and Canadian citizens. Follow this guide to learn how to gain TN visa status, maintain TN visa validity, review the NAFTA occupations list, and more.
The TN visa was one tool that the North American Free Trade Agreement put in place to encourage economic relations and strengthen trade between the United States, Canada, and Mexico. It has many benefits which makes it a foremost option for many citizens of Canada and Mexico. Among its benefits are a faster and more simplified application process compared to other visa types. It is also available for a range of occupations. There is a list of 63 clearly outlined in the table below and examples include accountant, landscape architect, dentist, pharmacist, engineer, scientist, etc. Another benefit is that you can maintain residence in your home country since it is a non-immigrant visa. Spouses and unmarried children (under 21) can also accompany a TN visa holder to the United States.
Learn about the TN Visa to Green Card Process.
There are two types of TN status for which these citizens can apply. A TN-1 is for Canadian professionals, and a TN-2 is for Mexican professionals. The applicants need to be qualified under one of the listed professions. Accepted NAFTA Professions must adhere to nonimmigrant classifications. Permanent residents of Canada or Mexico are not eligible for the TN visa. There is no yearly quota for the TN Visa, which provides all qualified applicants the opportunity to get a visa.
Below are the overall TN Visa requirements:
Canadian citizens typically do not need a TN visa to enter the U.S. However, if the participant wishes to bring dependents (spouses and unmarried children under 21) to the United States, the participant must have a TN visa. The dependents are then eligible to receive a TD nonimmigrant visa.
For a TN-1 visa, Canadian citizens can enter one of two ways:
Wondering what the difference is with TN Visa vs H-1B for North Americans? To learn more, book a consultation with one of our immigration attorneys.
Mexican citizens require a TN visa for entry into the United States. The TN-2 visa process is outlined below:
TN visa approval rates have been on the rise since 2010 according to data from the U.S. Department of State and research from Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy. TN visas issued to Mexicans increased by an astounding 884% between 2010 and 2022 – from 3,392 to 33,361. From approximately 0.7% in 2010, the percentage of TN visas issued increased to approximately 4.4% in 2021. Overall, U.S. work visas (not just TN visas) for Mexican citizens have increased in the past ten years. Going back to 2010, the percentage of employment visas issued to Mexicans was about 23% versus 64% in 2021. TN visas accounted for approximately 3.2% of Mexican work visas in 2010 and increased to around 7.1% in 2021 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Wondering how this compares to H-2A visas?
The H-2A visa, a very common visa for Mexican citizens, is meant for temporary agricultural workers (not on the TN visa list). Approximately 93% of all H-2A visas issued in 2021 were to Mexican citizens. In 2010, Mexicans received 31.9% of the H-2B visas issued. By 2021, Mexicans would make up around 75% of the H-2B visas issued.
The application process is rather straightforward and simple compared to other types of employment visas.
As a Canadian citizen you have two options.
1. Apply directly at a U.S. Customs and Border Protection port of entry
2. Employer submits the TN application along with Form I-129 to USCIS and then enter through U.S. port of entry once you have received approval
Mexican citizens need to:
1. Submit the necessary documents to a U.S. embassy or consulate with Form DS-160
2. Attend an interview
3. Once approved they can apply for entrance at select CBP-designated U.S. ports or certain pre-clearance stations
One of the most important requirements is that you qualify based on the TN visa professions list. Here is a job list of the 63 TN visa job professions that qualify:
The following are categorized by general occupations:
Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree; or C.P.A., C.A., C.G.A. or C.M.A.
Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree; or state/provincial license
Computer Systems Analyst
Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree; or PostSecondary Diploma3 or PostSecondary Certificate4, and three years experience
Disaster Relief Insurance Claims Adjuster
Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree, and successful completion of training in the appropriate areas of insurance adjustment pertaining to disaster relief claims; or three years experience in claims adjustment and successful completion of training in the appropriate areas of insurance adjustment pertaining to disaster relief claims.
Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree
Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree; or PostSecondary Diploma or PostSecondary Certificate, and three years experience
Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree in hotel/restaurant management; or PostSecondary Diploma or PostSecondary Certificate in hotel/restaurant management, and three years experience in hotel/restaurant management
Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree; or state/provincial/federal license
Lawyer (including Notary in the Province of Quebec)
LL.B., J.D., LL.L., B.C.L. or Licenciatura Degree (five years); or membership in a state/provincial bar
M.L.S. or B.L.S. (for which another Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree was a prerequisite)
Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree; or equivalent professional experience as established by statement or professional credential attesting to five years experience as a management consultant, or five years experience in a field of specialty related to the consulting agreement
Mathematician (including Statistician)
Range Manager/Range Conservationalist
Research Assistant (working in a post-secondary educational institution)
Possession of (a) theoretical knowledge of any of the following disciplines: agricultural sciences, astronomy, biology, chemistry, engineering, forestry, geology, geophysics, meteorology or physics; and (b) the ability to solve practical problems in any of those disciplines, or the ability to apply principles of any of those disciplines to basic or applied research
Sylviculturist (including Forestry Specialist)
Technical Publications Writer
Urban Planner (including Geographer)
The following are categorized by medical occupations:
D.D.S., D.M.D., Doctor en Odontologia or Doctor en Cirugia Dental; or state/provincial license
Medical Laboratory Technologist
Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree; or Post-Secondary Diploma or Post-Secondary Certificate, and three years experience
Physician (teaching or research only)
M.D. or Doctor en Medicina; or state/provincial license
State/provincial license; or Licenciatura Degree
D.V.M., D.M.V. or Doctor en Veterinaria; or state/provincial license
The following are categorized by scientist occupations:
Agriculturist (including Agronomist)
Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degrees
Geophysicist (including Oceanographer in Mexico and the United States)
Physicist (including Oceanographer in Canada)
The following are categorized by teacher occupations:
Compared to other nonimmigrant work visas, the TN is relatively inexpensive. You will be responsible for the $460 I-129 petition filing fee if you choose to petition by mail. If you gain your status at the border or port of entry, you will need to pay a $5 USD application fee and a second fee of $6 for your I-94 arrival/departure card so a total of $56 USD.
The visa application fee is $160.A filing fee of $460 is charged for an I-129 petition for a change or extension of status. Premium processing is an option for an additional $2,500. This will shorten the adjudication process down to 15 days but it does not guarantee any sort of approval on your application.
How much is the cost that an employer is responsible for?
Employers are responsible for the filing fee of the application ($460) and they will need to cover and legal fees or other costs related to the application process. This may include things like advertising costs and recruitment efforts.
Keep in mind that government fees for Canadian citizens and Mexicans are much lower for the TN visa than the H-1B visa. With that being said though it is best to discuss the best possible option with your immigration attorney.
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If you apply at a port of entry, your processing time may only take a few hours. However, if you are petitioning by mail, the amount of time it will take to process your petition will depend on the caseload of your USCIS service center. As of July 2023, the Vermont Service Center is taking two months to process I-129s for TN visas. For the most accurate processing time, check the USCIS site.
However, you can opt to pay an additional fee for premium processing, which will expedite your TN petition’s processing time to 15 business days.
While premium processing does shorten your processing time, it does not increase your approval chances. If the USCIS fails to process your petition in that time after you have filed the I-907 premium processing form, USCIS will refund your premium processing fee, and your petition will be processed normally.
Check out this guide on TN Visa to Green Card Process.
A TN visa is valid for up to three years and can be renewed indefinitely.
Use Form I-129 to renew or extend your TN status. In addition, you’ll need proof of the TN status holder’s education/citizenship and a letter addressing the need for the extension. At the point in which the job or TN status officially expires, individuals must leave the country. Unlike the H-1B grace period, TN visas do not have this leeway period.
The TN visa holder’s spouse and/or children under 21 years old may be eligible for TD nonimmigrant status. This status allows dependents to enter the U.S. with the TN visa holder and be granted the same period of stay. However, there are some restrictions to the TD nonimmigrant status for dependents. For example, spouses and children can’t work while in the United States, but they can study.
Dependents can apply for admission into the United States at a CBP-designated U.S. port of entry or a designated pre-clearance/pre-flight inspection station.
The H-1B visa is a similar nonimmigrant visa, but it has distinct differences to consider if you are considering both options.
The TN visa holds several advantages over the H-1B. One such benefit is that there’s no annual cap. Each year, only 85,000 H-1B visas are allotted. Because more people apply than there are slots, the USCIS holds a lottery to randomly select the petitions processed yearly. Due to the large number of petitions, being selected can be slim, which can be a significant impediment to your visa.
Also, the H-1B is only valid for an initial period of three years with the ability to extend it to a maximum of six years. In contrast, you can extend the TN an indefinite number of times. The H-1B is also much more expensive, though the employer covers most costs.
However, the H-1B is not very limited regarding which occupations qualify, whereas the TN only has a set number of qualifying professions. In addition, the H-1B visa is also considered a “dual intent” visa, which means you can seek legal permanent residence (green card status) while under it. The TN visa does not allow you to do this, and you must maintain an intent to return to your home country. Therefore, pursuing a green card under TN status could violate your status and incur legal consequences.
Ultimately, you need to decide your intentions in the U.S. before choosing between the H-1B and the TN visa. Again, your immigration attorney can help you more depending on your unique case.
Mexican citizens must receive a visa to enter the U.S. as TN nonimmigrants. Contact the U.S. embassy or Mexican consulate to apply for a TN visa as a Mexican citizen. Conversely, Canadian citizens are eligible for entry (as nonimmigrants) without a visa. The TN classification reflects this exemption. TN nonimmigrants may be professionals like engineers, teachers, scientists, accountants, etc.
Below are some frequently asked questions and answers about the TN visa.
Is there an annual quota for the number of TN visas issued?
No, there is no annual quota for the TN Visa so employers can file the applications at any point during the year. This is one huge advantage of choosing this visa because you don’t need to worry about scarcity due to limits.
Is the TN visa a good alternative to the H1B?
If you weren’t selected in the H-1B lottery and have a U.S. employer willing to sponsor you and you are a Canadian or Mexican citizen, then the TN visa could be a good alternative option for you. It’s highly recommended to discuss the pros and cons of each with your immigration attorney. If you need your TN visa adjudicated in a faster time frame, you also have the option to choose premium processing (additional fee).
Is self-employment allowed with the TN visa?
That is not permitted. You need to be working for a U.S. employer.
Can permanent residents of Canada or Mexico be eligible for the TN visa?
No, only citizens of these two countries. Consult your immigration attorney to inquire about additional visa options.
How long can a Canadian citizen stay in the U.S. to visit?
They can stay for up to six months as a visitor and the counting period begins at the point of entry (180 continuous days per year). If a Canadian citizen wishes to stay longer or has a different purpose, they may need to obtain a different visa or permit, such as a work visa or student visa.
Can Mexican citizens go to the U.S. without a visa?
Mexicans need to apply for a tourist visa to visit the United States and they can stay for a maximum of six months. Visitors in the United States have the option to request an extension of their authorized stay for an additional six months while they are already inside the country. To be eligible, they must submit their extension applications prior to the expiration of their current authorized stay.
What can I do if my TN visa is denied?
First of all, we should clarify that a TN visa denial and rejection are not the same thing and the course of action is different depending on which one. Discuss this more with your immigration attorney. Common reasons for denial include a support or employment letter that was overwritten, you indicated the wrong NAFTA occupation and/or did not meet the necessary qualifications (training, degrees, experience, etc.) for the position, have a problematic criminal background or you have violated your immigration status in the past, and other reasons.
Can I appeal a TN visa denial?
No, you do not have the right to appeal to the Administrative Appeals Office. This is the case of nonimmigrant visas that use the I-129 petition.
Can TN visa holders study in the United States?
TN visa holders can engage in part-time or recreational studies while in the U.S., but pursuing a full-time academic program typically requires a different visa, such as an F-1 student visa.
Can TN visa holders work part-time or as independent contractors?
TN visa holders are generally required to work full-time for the U.S. employer who sponsored their visa. Working part-time or as an independent contractor may not comply with the terms of the TN visa.
Can TN visa holders apply for permanent residency (green card)?
While TN visa holders can work in the United States, the TN visa itself does not provide a direct path to permanent residency. However, it is possible to pursue permanent residency through other means, such as employment-based sponsorship.
Do TN visa holders need a job offer before applying?
Yes, a TN visa requires a job offer from a U.S. employer in a qualifying profession. You must provide supporting documentation, such as a letter of employment, when applying for the visa.
All visas, both immigrant and nonimmigrant, represent a significant investment of time and money. The best way to protect that investment and ensure that you are on the optimal track for your TN visa is to hire an expert to guide you and take care of any unforeseen obstacles.
The immigration lawyers at VisaNation Law Group have extensive experience helping people like yourself fulfill their dreams in the U.S. through the TN visa. The immigration road is filled with regulations and forms. By letting a VisaNation Law Group attorney handle your case, you can rest easy knowing that your case is in the best hands. From filing the initial petition to dealing with RFEs, fees, and extensions, you can focus on your plans in the U.S. instead of the immigration process. To get in touch with an immigration attorney at VisaNation Law Group, you can fill out this contact form and schedule your consultation today.