TN - Canadians and Mexicans entering under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)
The TN nonimmigrant category was created by Congress to implement America’s obligations under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with Canada and Mexico. Thus, the TN category is limited to citizens of Canada and citizens of Mexico only. The one difference between TN for Canadians and TN for Mexicans is that a Canadian citizen is not required to apply for a TN visa in his or her passport prior to coming to the United States. (For most nonimmigrant categories, such as the H-1B, Canadian citizens do not require a visa in order to proceed to a port of entry to apply for nonimmigrant status). Thus, a Canadian citizen who is approved for TN classification does not receive a “TN visa” but rather receives “TN status.” A Mexican citizen must obtain a TN visa from a US Embassy or Consulate before entering the United States and being admitted into TN status.
Occupations Suitable for TN Classification
The TN classification is similar to the more commonly sought H-1B classification for occupations that require a Bachelor degree in a particular field. However, the requirements of the two categories are not the same.
Most of the listed TN occupations require the applicant possess the Canadian or Mexican equivalent to a US Bachelor degree, which is why the TN category is often thought of as an alternative to the H-1B visa. For positions such as Engineers, the Bachelor degree requirement for TN classification is the same as for H-1B classification.
However, many positions that require a Bachelor or higher degree and thus make for proper H-1B classifications are not listed in the Appendix to NAFTA and thus are not eligible for TN classification. Conversely, the TN list contains several occupations that require less than a full Bachelor degree, as well as occupations that might require a Bachelor degree but can also be performed with a lesser degree if combined with sufficient work. Thus, even if an occupation has customarily been approved for H-1B classification, it does not guarantee that TN classification can and will be approved.
Length of Status
USCIS has increased the period of time for which TN status is granted from one-year at a time to three-years at a time. This makes the TN category more attractive than in the past, when TN status had to be renewed every year. The rule change granting TN status in 3-year increments makes the TN category more similar to the H-1B category, because H-1B status is granted in increments of up to 3 years at a time.
No Total Time Limit on TN Status
Unlike the H-1B, an TN candidate has no definite total limit in such nonimmigrant status. As such, some employers find the TN category a useful “stop-gap” to permit the temporary employment of a Canadian or Mexican professional for a few years until a change to H-1B status is successfully made.
No “Dual Intent”
Also, unlike the H-1B, the TN applicant required to convince CBP of his or her intent to return to the home country at the end of the employment. Accordingly, in rare occasions, a TN applicant is sometimes refused on the dual intent ground,