TN Trade NAFTA is temporary work status for qualifying Canadian and Mexican professionals under the North American Free Trade Agreement. TN status may be valid for up to 3 years, and it is renewable indefinitely. The TN requires work in a job listed on the TN occupation list. It may offer quick and far less expensive processing than other categories such as the H-1B Visa. This is because it has no annual quota, has low fees and requires an application only to a border post (Canadians only) or US Consulate rather than to USCIS.
Spouses and unmarried children under 21 may accompany the principal TN in TD (Trade Dependent) status. US work authorization is not available to TD holders.
The TN Trade NAFTA classification does not allow for “dual intent.” That is, no provision in US immigration law or related regulations allows a TN holder to apply for a Green Card (lawful permanent residence) while also holding TN status. So TN holders contemplating such a move are wise to seek counsel on the optimal timing and procedure to do so. This may include an intermediate work visa, such as the H1B Visa, which specifically allows dual intent.
Documentation and processing for the TN Trade NAFTA differ for Canadian and Mexican nationals.
The TN Trade NAFTA category is not an opportunity for entrepreneur self-sponsorship. In fact, TN regulations specifically disallow self-employment for TN holders. More specifically, TN Trade NAFTA holders may not be sole owners of, or hold a controlling interest in, their sponsoring entities.
On March 10, 2004, DHS removed the annual TN quota on for Mexican professionals. That rule also eliminated the past requirement for Mexican TN’s to file a petition and corresponding labor condition application (LCA).
Prior to March 2004, Mexican TN candidates had to submit a certified LCA and petition to USCIS. Canadians could apply for a TN directly through a border post; Mexicans could not. Upon USCIS approval of a TN petition, Mexicans then had to obtain a TN visa from a US consulate abroad to enter the US.
TN procedures still differ somewhat for Mexican and Canadian TN candidates, although the process has improved for Mexican TN candidates. Mexicans still cannot apply directly to a border post for a TN. But Mexicans no longer must obtain a certified LCA, or submit TN petitions to USCIS. Rather, Mexican TN candidates can now apply directly to a US consular post. Upon approval and issuance of a TN visa, the Mexican TN candidate may then apply for admission to the US at a US Class A port-of-entry. TN applicants can do this either at a US airport that handles international traffic, or at a US pre-clearance/ pre-flight station.
A TN visa for a Mexican national is valid for a maximum of one year. The DOS reciprocity schedule between the US and Mexico requires this validity limit. TN validity, however, does not determine a Mexican TN holder’s period of admission to the US.
US border officers may admit Mexican nationals with valid TN visas for up to 3 years in TN status.
A Mexican national is admissible with a TN visa for up to 3 years if his/her passport will remain valid throughout this period and s/he is otherwise admissible.
Immigration officers should admit Mexican nationals in TN status for the full period of intended employment, up to a maximum of 3 years. A letter or similar statement supporting the TN application signed by the prospective TN employer should indicate the intended period of employment. If the employment period exceeds TN validity, a border officer may still admit a TN for up to 3 years regardless of the TN visa expiration date. However, to do so, the TN’s passport must remain valid throughout that 3 year period. The TN must also be otherwise admissible to the US.
Both Canadian and Mexican requests for TN extensions and requests to add or change TN employers require Form I-129. However, a TN extension requires no LCA. But a Form I-129 TN extension request is not a petition for status within the meaning of INA §214(c)(1). Therefore, it confers no appeal rights normally associated with a petition. A Form I-129 extension request is thus only a vehicle to collect information necessary to adjudicate a TN extension.