An Alternative to the H-1B Visa for Canadian and Mexican Citizens: TN status now available for 3-year approval
Published November 24, 2008

For citizens of North American countries such as Canada and Mexico, the path toward obtaining a nonimmigrant visa or permission to work in the United States is often much simpler than applying for the H-1B. Since the enactment of NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement) in 1994, workers in certain employment categories have been welcomed to the U.S. along with their families in one-year increments, with the freedom in some cases to renew indefinitely. As we approach 2009 – the year by which the NAFTA accords were set to be finalized – the parameters of the TN (Trade-NAFTA) program have continued to expand. As of last month, TN applicants are eligible for initial approval of up to three years (as opposed to only one year), again with the option in some cases of unlimited renewal (in up to 3-year increments), and applicants’ immediate family members may join them on derivative TD status for the same amount of time.

How do I apply for the TN Visa? How do I know if I’m eligible?
Those eligible for the TN program include professional workers (for example, accountants, engineers, lawyers, pharmacists, scientists, teachers, and certain other professionals and skilled workers) within the categories defined by NAFTA who have received an offer of employment from a U.S-based company.

The process of gaining entry differs slightly for Canadian and Mexican citizens, with Canadians facing less red tape. For Canadians, no visa is required and documentation to facilitate entry in TN/TD status can be presented to Customs and Border Protection officials at most ports of entry. For Mexicans, a visa is required, and a visa application with supporting documentation must be presented at a U.S. consular post in Mexico. In both cases, the required documentation includes:

  • detailed letter from the employer featuring a company profile and the specifics of the job offer
  • professional and/or educational credentials, e.g. licenses, degrees, etc
  • proof of citizenship
  • necessary fees

As stated, Mexican applicants are required to first obtain a visa through a U.S. Consular post, which involves completing an online Nonimmigrant Visa Application for each member of their family (self included), scheduling an interview with the post, paying the necessary fees, completing a biometrics requirement, and ensuring that all of the requisite detailed documentation is prepared in advance of the interview. Decisions are issued shortly after the interview.

How does the TN Visa differ from the H-1B?
The TN program can be a nice alternative for U.S. employers and North American workers, because the requirements are simpler than those for the H-1B program. Also, NAFTA’s job categories are broader, allowing more non-degreed workers such as “scientific technicians” and “management consultants” to be approved for temporary admission. Additionally – and quite significantly – the TN program is not subject to the yearly cap that makes the H-1B so difficult to obtain. Moreover, because there is no deadline or availability start-date for TN applications, the approvals are decided on a “rolling basis.” This means there is nothing like the annual “race” for H-1B visas, and the entire TN process is, in general, much faster and more efficient.

Why does this program exist? What is the point of NAFTA?
Ultimately, the North American Free Trade Agreement was created to foster economic relations between Canada, Mexico, and the U.S. by eliminating barriers to trade – such as tariffs on agricultural goods, and barriers to the exchange of labor between the countries. The TN program allows U.S. firms to hire workers from Mexico and Canada more easily, and the increase to three years for initial approval – finalized last month – will cut down on time and paperwork for firms who wish to employ foreign labor on a longer-term basis.

Copyright © 2008, By Law Offices of Richard Hanus, Chicago, Illinois