The “TN” Visa for Canadian and Mexican Professionals
The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) created the TN visa classification for professionals from Canada and Mexico. There are significant advantages to the TN visa, but these are accompanied by some drawbacks as well. To be eligible, the foreign national must be a citizen of either Canada or Mexico seeking entry to the United States to engage in business activities at a professional level with a U.S. employer. The list of qualifying professions and activity is lengthy but definite and includes accountants, lawyers, engineers, pharmacists, scientists, and teachers. TN status is valid for 3 years at a time and can be extended indefinitely; spouses and minor children may be granted dependent (TD) status.
An advantage of the TN visa is that it provides, like the E-3, an alternative option to work in the U.S. if the H-1B option is not readily available. Individuals eligible for TN status do not need to play the lottery and wait until October 1stto start employment – they can accept employment at any time. Their compensation is not governed by the prevailing wage requirement tied to H-1B petitions. Canadian citizens can even apply for TN status directly at the border (as well as through USCIS).
However, the major drawback of the TN visa is that it is not a dual intent visa like the H-1B. This means that TN visa holders who want to apply for permanent residence would be best served by starting the PERM process as soon as possible after the initial grant or extension of TN status. The PERM process is lengthy and can take a year or longer to complete and once submitted, the foreign national’s nonimmigrant intent is compromised making it difficult to renew the TN visa.