Canada, Mexico, and the United States have a free trade agreement. Although originally called NAFTA, the agreement was updated in 2018 under the name USMCA.
Whether you call it the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) or the United States Mexico Canada Agreement (USMCA), this regional free trade treaty has a significant impact on the way Canadians, Americans, and Mexicans do business.
One of the biggest impacts of NAFTA/USMCA from an immigration perspective is the TN visa system. The TN visa allows citizens of Canada, Mexico, and the United States to temporarily live and work in any of the three countries. If you are a licensed member of one of 60 occupations on the TN visa list, then you can easily cross the border to work.
Today, we’re explaining how you can use the NAFTA/USMCA TN visa to temporarily work in the United States as a citizen of Mexico or Canada.
What is the TN Visa?
The TN visa is a non-immigrant visa that allows you to temporarily work in the United States. It’s available exclusively to citizens of Mexico and Canada. The TN visa is not available to those who are only permanent residents: you need to be a citizen of Mexico or Canada.
If you have experience, education, training, or licensing in one of the professions on the TN visa list, then you can easily cross the border to work in the United States. The list of professions includes lawyers, engineers, teachers, accountants, occupational therapists, and other professionals.
What’s the Difference Between a TN Visa and an H-1B Visa?
Along with the H-1B visa, the TN visa is one of the most popular work visas for foreign nationals seeking to work in the United States. Generally, however, the TN visa has much looser requirements.
There are three main differences between the TN visa and the H1-B visa including:
No Labor Condition Application Requirement
TN visa employers are not required to have a Labor Condition Application (LCA) from the U.S. Department of Labor, for example, which means businesses don’t have to prove that they pay a prevailing wage or provide a safe working environment (generally, it’s not an issue). This can expedite the process of getting a job in the United States. It reduces the fees and hassle for a U.S. employer hiring a Canadian or Mexican citizen.
No Need for Sponsorship
An H1-B visa requires sponsorship from an employer. A TN visa, on the other hand, does not require sponsorship. The employer does not have to pay many of the same fees they would have to pay with an H1-B visa. Again, this reduces costs and speeds up the immigration process for qualified Canadians or Mexicans.
No Cap on the Number of Visas
Another crucial difference is that there is no limit to the number of TN visas awarded every year. The American government assigns a limit of 65,000 H1-B visas for companies across the United States. There is no limit, however, on the number of TN visas that can be awarded every year. As long as you fulfill the requirements and are a Canadian or Mexican citizen, then you should have no trouble getting a TN visa.
Types of TN Visas
There are two broad types of TN visas available, including:
TN-1 Visa: For Citizens of Canada
TN-2 Visa: For Citizens of Mexico
What Are the Requirements for a TN Visa?
A TN visa comes with specific requirements. Not all citizens of Mexico or Canada are automatically eligible for a TN Visa. In fact, most citizens of these countries are not eligible. Depending on your education, licensing, and work experience, you may qualify for a TN visa.
General requirements for a TN visa vary between occupations. An occupational therapist, for example, has different requirements than an accountant. However, general requirements for a TN visa include:
- You must be a citizen of Canada or Mexico
- Your occupation must be on the list of accepted occupations on NAFTA/USMCA
- You must have a full-time or part-time job offer from an employer in the United States
- Your job offer must specifically require one of the listed professions on the NAFTA/USMCA list
- You must meet all educational and experience requirements for that specific application
- You must prove that you intend to return home upon expiry of your visa
Most jobs on the TN visa list require at least a bachelor’s degree. Some jobs require a master’s degree. Some professionals will have to get their degree notarized if the course was completed outside the United States.
Many jobs also require work experience. You might need at least three years of work experience to qualify, for example. To prove work experience, you might need to provide references for past employers and a complete resume or CV.
Some jobs on the list require specific licensing. Many healthcare professions require a license, for example. Generally, licenses transfer easily across the NAFTA region. Your speech therapist license in the United States automatically makes you eligible to practice speech therapy in a Canadian province. However, licensing requirements vary between professions.
Certain medically-focused jobs will also require third-party certification. A registered nurse may need to get certified by the Commission on Graduates of Foreign Nursing Schools, for example, and an Occupational Therapist may need to get certified by the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy. Physical therapists need to get certified by the Foreign Credentialing Commission on Physical Therapy. After receiving this certification, it will be valid for five years. You will need to renew it for as long as you plan on working in the United States.
How Does the TN-1 Visa for Canadians Work?
The TN-1 visa is specifically for Canadian citizens who wish to work in the United States as one of the listed NAFTA/USMCA professionals. Generally, Canadian citizens do not require a visa to visit the United States. However, they will require a visa to work in the United States. Unlike a traditional visa, you do not need to complete prior paperwork with the United States government prior to arriving at a U.S. port of entry. You can show up at the border and announce your intention to work under a TN visa. The paperwork will be handled directly at the border. However, you will need to prepare certain documents in advance.
Canadians who wish to enter the United States to work under a TN-1 visa will need to meet the following qualifications:
- Proof of Canadian citizenship (generally a passport)
- Proof that you have a job offer in the United States, including the name of the company, a description of your position, an explanation of your length of employment, and any educational or training qualifications required for the job
- You will also need to pay a fee of $50 to $56, depending on whether you are crossing into the United States via an airport or a land border.
You can also choose to get a TN-1 visa before crossing the border, although you don’t have to. If you choose to get a TN-1 visa in advance, then your employer in the U.S. must file a Form I-129, Petition for Non-Immigrant Worker. This petition is filed to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) at a price of $460. This paperwork can take a few months to process, although premium processing can reduce the turnaround time to just a few weeks (at a price of $1,225). If you choose to get a TN-1 visa in advance, then you can show your proof of citizenship (Canadian passport) and your approved form I-129 at the U.S. port of entry to gain entry to the country on a TN-1 visa.
How Does the TN-2 Visa for Mexicans Work?
The TN-2 visa, like the TN-1 visa, allows foreign citizens to work in the United States. The TN-2 visa is specifically for citizens of Mexico.
While Canadian citizens can arrive at the border with no prior application, Mexican citizens do need to complete an application. Citizens of Mexico are required to apply for a TN visa online before visiting a United States embassy or consulate. They cannot simply complete the visa at a U.S. port of entry.
Keep reading to discover how to apply for a TN visa whether you’re a citizen of Mexico or Canada.
How to Apply for a TN Visa
You can apply for a TN visa online by following the steps below:
Step 1) Complete Form DS-160: This is the standard non-immigrant application form for entry to the United States. Complete the form for a TN visa and then get your confirmation page and barcode.
Step 2) Pay the Fee: The TN visa comes with an application fee of $160 for Mexican citizens only. You may be required to pay other applicable fees depending on your status.
Step 3) Schedule your TN Visa Interview: After paying the fee, you can schedule an appointment with a U.S. embassy or consulate.
Step 4) Submit Required Files: The TN visa may require you to submit all of the following documents as part of the application process:
- Proof that you have a valid passport for more than 6 months after your planned departure date from the United States
- DS-160 form confirmation page
- One photograph that meets U.S. visa photo requirements
- Receipts proving you have paid the TN visa application fee of $160
- A letter from your employer stating your job description, occupation, contract length, education, salary, required licenses, required education, and other relevant information
Step 5) Attend the Interview: During your interview at a U.S. consulate or embassy, the officer will ask questions to verify the information on your form. The officer wants to ensure everything is correct while also ensuring that you are legitimately traveling to the United States to work in the stated profession. The officer also wants to make sure you intend to return home after your TN visa has expired.
How Long Does My TN Visa Last?
If your TN visa is approved, then it will last 3 years by default. As your expiry date approaches, however, you may wish to continue extending your visa.
There’s no limit on the number of times you can extend your TN visa. As long as you continue to be employed in the United States and have ties to your home country in Canada or Mexico, then you should have no problem extending your TN visa for an indefinite period of time.
You do not have to stick with the same employer to extend your TN visa. However, if you switch to a new employer, then you will need to submit a new letter of employment to USCIS verifying your job position, salary, and other information.
Can I Get a Green Card with a TN Visa?
Some TN visa holders choose to apply for permanent residency in the United States. However, it’s important to note that the TN visa is a non-immigrant visa. That means in order to qualify for the visa, you need to prove that you have strong ties to Canada or Mexico and intend to return to your home country afterward. If the border officer or consular officer believes you are traveling to the United States to attempt to establish permanent residency, then your TN visa will be denied.
However, there are ways you can change your immigration status and begin seeking permanent residency. You can self-petition, for example, or get sponsored via marriage or an employer. As soon as you start these processes, however, it will likely jeopardize the status of your TN visa.
What Can I Not Do with a TN Visa?
A TN visa allows you to live and work in the United States for a temporary, indefinite period of time (3 years by default). You can open a bank account, pay taxes, and perform other functions of a U.S. resident. The main things you cannot do with a TN visa, however, including:
- You must depart the United States immediately after your TN visa expires (assuming you did not extend the visa); there is no grace period, and you will need to return to your home country before preparing other arrangements
- You cannot get a TN visa if you are self-employed or own your own business, even if you have one of the professions listed on NAFTA/USMCA
- You cannot seek a green card with a TN visa because the visa is not a dual intent visa; if you try to establish permanent residence in the United States with a TN visa, then you will jeopardize the status of your TN visa
Can I Bring Dependents to the United States with a TN Visa?
TN visa applicants can bring dependents to the United States with a TN visa. As a TN visa holder, you are entitled to bring the following dependents to the United States with you:
- Unmarried children under 21 years of age
Your spouse or children will need to apply for a separate visa called the TD visa. This visa is designed specifically for dependents of TN visa holders.
However, this visa is not required for the spouses or children of a Canadian TN visa holder. As long as the spouse or children arrive at the U.S. port of entry with proof of the TN visa holder’s status in the United States and their connection to the TN visa holder, Canadian spouses and children should have no trouble crossing the border.
The TD visa is exclusively for the spouse and children of Mexican TN visa holders. To apply for a visa, you must complete the DS-160 form and visit a U.S. embassy.
For dependents to come to the United States, the primary TN visa holder needs to prove that he or she is financially able to support these dependents while residing in the country.
Under a TD visa, you are not permitted to work in the United States. However, you can enroll in studies. As a dependent, your status in the country is entirely dependent on the TN visa holder. When the TN visa expires, you must also leave the country. If the TN visa holder applies for an extension and gets accepted, then you can also apply for an extension.
TN Visa Occupations List
There are approximately 60 occupations listed on NAFTA/USMCA. Individuals with experience working in these occupations may be eligible to travel to the United States on a TN visa, assuming they meet all of the requirements.
The 60 occupations on the TN visa list include all of the following:
- Computer Systems Analyst
- Graphic Designer
- Hotel Manager
- Industrial Designer
- Interior Designer
- Land Surveyor
- Landscape Architect
- Management Consultant
- Range Manager
- Research Assistant
- Scientific Technician
- Social Worker
- Technical Publications Writer
- Urban Planner
- Vocational Counselor
- Medical Laboratory Technologist
- Occupational Therapist
- Recreational Therapist
- Registered Nurse
- Animal Breeder/Scientist
- Dairy Scientist
- Plant Breeder
- Poultry Scientist
- Soil Scientist
- College Professor
- Seminary Professor
- University Professor
Requirements vary between professions.
An engineer who seeks to immigrate to the United States on a TN Visa, for example, is required to have a license in the state, province, or federation where he or she is currently working, as well as a bachelor’s degree. A landscape architect, on the other hand, simply requires a bachelor’s degree.
Generally, if you have professional training or education, a certified license, and at least three years of experience in your profession, you should have no trouble getting a TN visa if your occupation is on the list above.
By following the guide above, you can expedite the TN visa process and easily start working in the United States as a citizen of Canada or Mexico.