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NAFTA Professional (TN) Nonimmigrant Status

The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) created special economic and trade relationships between Canada, Mexico and the United States. Within the provisions of NAFTA, a nonimmigrant professional work classification was carved out, allowing citizens of Canada and Mexico, as NAFTA professionals, to work in the United States under the TN visa. The classification only applies to citizens of the NAFTA countries, not residents.

NAFTA Professional (TN) Worker Eligibility

Canadians and Mexicans may be eligible to work in the U.S. under the TN classification if the following requirements are met:

  • TN Worker is a citizen of Canada or Mexico;
  • Profession is on the NAFTA professions list;
  • Position in the United States requires a NAFTA professional;
  • TN Worker will work in a prearranged full-time or part-time job for an employer (self-employment is not permitted);
  • TN Worker has the qualifications for the job: meeting the education and / or experience requirements of the profession as indicated on the NAFTA professions list.

With some exceptions, each profession requires a baccalaureate degree as an entry-level requirement. If a baccalaureate is required, experience cannot be substituted for that degree. In some professions, an alternative to a bachelor’s degree is listed. For some professions, experience is required in addition to the degree. For a complete list of professions with minimum education requirements and alternative credentials, see Appendix 1603.D.1 of NAFTA Chapter 16, reproduced here.

Terms of the TN Visa

Canadians typically do not require a visa to work under a TN visa, but rather, are usually issued the visa at a U.S. port of entry by Customs and Border Patrol. Mexican citizens are required to obtain TN visas in advance for admission to the U.S. in this status.

TN Visa holders are admitted in TN status for a maximum of three years. Prior to conclusion of the three year period, the TN visa holder must either seek readmission in TN nonimmigrant status or petition USCIS for an extension of stay in the United States. If approved, an extension from USCIS can be granted in increments not to exceed three years.

An individual can apply for extensions of the TN status indefinitely. However, when extending the status or seeking admission on a TN visa, the TN worker must establish that they are not permanently relocating to the U.S., but that the stay will be temporary. As this can be somewhat of a grey area, our experience has shown that “a temporary period” is defined as one having a reasonable, finite end as opposed to permanent residence. In other words, a TN applicant must prove that he or she will depart upon completion of the assignment.

TD Visas for TN Principal’s Family Members

A TN visa holder’s spouse and unmarried, minor children are eligible to apply for TD visas to accompany the principal visa holder to the U.S. or join later. TN applicants must prove their ability to financially support family members in the U.S. Dependents do not have to be citizens of Mexico or Canada. While spouses and children cannot work while in the U.S., they are permitted to study.

Many individuals and companies considering the TN visa, often find that the H-1B specialty occupation classification covers additional professions not listed on the NAFTA list. Aliens of extraordinary ability can consider the O-1 visa, whereas individuals transferring to the U.S. to work for or open an international company’s affiliate office, can consider the L-1 Intracompany Transferee visa. Individuals simply coming to the U.S. for business-related reasons such as negotiating contracts or meeting with clients, and not engaging in gainful employment, may be eligible for the B-1 Business Visitor visa.

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