TN classification is available to qualified Canadian and Mexican citizens pursuant to the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). TN status is granted in one-year increments. Currently there is no limit to TN stay in the U.S. However, an individual in TN status must maintain an intent to return to his or her home country. Thus, it is wise to consider other work authorization status options with HR and WHK before the permanent residence process is started.
1) Eligibility requirements for TN classificationTN or "Trade NAFTA" status is available only to citizens of Canada and Mexico. TN applicants must be offered a temporary position in one of the professions listed in Appendix 1603.D.1 to Annex 1603 of the NAFTA. The list of professions includes, among others, Engineer, Computer Systems Analyst, Accountant, and Scientific Technologist. Most of the listed TN professions require a minimum of a Bachelor's degree in the specialized field, but in contrast to the H-1B category, work experience equivalent to a degree is not recognized.
2) How is a TN application processed?The TN application process cannot begin until the offer of employment is made and accepted. Although the TN classification is available to Canadian and Mexican nationals, the application process and timing is different for each.
- Canadian applicants: Canadians can apply for admission to the United States in TN status at a U.S. border crossing post or pre-flight inspection at designated international airports. The application consists of a letter from the employer describing the duties of the offered employment and how the position qualifies as a TN profession. The applicant must also present his or her educational documents to satisfy the education requirement for that TN profession. These applications are reviewed by the USCIS officer at the port of entry or airport pre-flight inspection on the day of travel to the United States. No visa is required.
- TN petitions for Mexican nationals: The TN process for Mexican nationals starts with a petition filed by the employer with the USCIS. In addition to establishing the nature of the TN position and documenting the qualifications of the prospective employee, the employer must also satisfy the wage requirements of the Department of Labor by filing an LCA. Upon USCIS approval, the Mexican national must obtain a visa at a U.S. Consulate in Mexico.
- Change of Status: U.S. employers who wish to hire Canadian and Mexican nationals already employed in the United States in another nonimmigrant visa status (e.g. H-1B, L-1), may request a change of status to TN by filing a petition with the USCIS. The beneficiary may not commence employment until approval of the TN petition.
USCIS processing times for TN status can vary. On average, processing time of a TN petition at the USCIS is eight to ten weeks. Canadian applicants will appreciate their ability to obtain fast processing at an airport pre-flight inspection or a port of entry.
3) Extension of TN statusAs with all work authorization status types, TN status must be renewed or extended prior to the expiration of the employee's current TN status (evidenced by the expiration date of the I-94 card).
Canadian nationals with plans to travel outside the United States in the weeks or months immediately before the expiration of their current TN status may make a new application for admission in TN status at a U.S. port of entry or pre-flight inspection. Upon reentry, the TN employee can be admitted for another one-year period of stay in TN status.
Where a border application is not an option, TN employees must have an extension filed by the employer before the current status expires in order to preserve his/her right to continue to work at the company. Once the TN extension request has been filed, the employee will have continued work authorization for up to 240 days or upon USCIS approval of the extension, whichever comes sooner. In the event of international travel (even to Canada) while the extension application is pending, another TN application would need to be submitted upon reentry.
The employee should contact HR or WHK approximately four months prior to expiration of their current TN status to ensure sufficient time remains to process an extension.