What is the TN visa?

In a Nutshell

There are several different categories of visas for foreign nationals entering the United States. The TN visa is available specifically for certain Canadian citizens and Mexican citizens. This article explains what the TN visa is, who’s eligible for it, and the application process. The article also answers frequently asked questions about the TN visa, including whether it’s possible to get a green card while in TN status.

Written by Jonathan Petts
Written May 30, 2022

What is the TN visa?

A “Trade NAFTA” (TN) visa is a nonimmigrant employment visa for Canadian and Mexican citizens who work in specific professional areas. The U.S. government created this visa for citizens from countries under the former North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Today, NAFTA is known as the U.S.-Mexico-Canada (USMCA) agreement. The agreement exists to foster the economic trade relationships between these three countries. 

Qualified Canadian and Mexican citizens can stay and work in the United States on TN visa authorization. They may receive TN status if their U.S.-based job offer is a NAFTA profession. TN visa length of stay lasts for up to three years. You may later renew your period of stay by reapplying for the visa.

What are the requirements for the TN visa?

There are sixty NAFTA professions that qualify for TN nonimmigrant status, including engineering, law, social work, and dentistry. If you are a professional worker whose job is on NAFTA’s list, you’ll also need to meet the following visa requirements for TN status eligibility:

  • You are a Canadian or Mexican citizen. You may provide proof of Canadian citizenship or Mexican citizenship with your passport or other documents. Note that this visa is not available for permanent residents of Canada or Mexico.

  • You have a prearranged full-time or part-time job offer in the United States with a U.S. employer or a foreign employer within a U.S. entity.

  • You are qualified to practice this profession. You may use your bachelor’s or master’s degrees, if applicable, to prove you meet the educational requirements for your field.

How do you apply for the TN visa?

If you are a citizen of Canada, you can apply for a TN visa in one of two ways:

  1. When you enter the United States, you can apply directly at a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) port of entry or pre-flight inspection station.

  2. If you are outside the United States, you can have your employer submit the TN application and Form I-129 (the “Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker”) to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Then once you receive an approval notice, you can try to enter the United States at a U.S. port of entry. Faster premium processing services are available for this application pathway.

As a Mexican citizen, you should submit your TN visa application and Form I-129 to your local U.S. embassy or consulate. You should also submit Form DS-160 (the “Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application”) to the Consular Electronic Application Center. You’ll have a visa interview with a consular officer. After this process, you’ll receive your visa number and have permission to enter at a U.S. port of entry.

Both Canadian and Mexican citizens should get an employer’s TN support letter. The support letter should summarize your position, business activities, the applicable NAFTA profession, your qualifications at this professional level, salary, and length of employment. In addition to the support letter, note that you’ll need to prove your educational qualifications. Evidence of your qualifications for your position can include original copies of transcripts, diplomas, or degrees. You’ll also need to pay an application fee, which varies depending on your circumstances.

Suppose you are a Canadian or Mexican citizen already in the United States on a different nonimmigrant status. In that case, you can adjust your status to TN visa status. Use Form I-129 to adjust your status or to reapply later for TN status renewals.

Can people on TN status get green cards?

The TN visa is not an immigrant visa or a “dual intent” visa category. This means that when you enter the United States with a TN visa, you do not intend on permanently moving to the country. So, TN status alone is not a pathway to a green card.

In some cases, TN visa holders may meet and decide to marry a U.S. citizen or green card holder during their time in the United States. If this happens, you will become eligible to apply for a marriage-based green card. That can still be a complicated process. Check out our guide to learn more about transitioning from a TN visa to a marriage green card.

Frequently Asked Questions

You may have some further questions about the benefits and limitations of TN status. To learn more about the particularities of a TN visa, read on for answers to frequently asked questions.

Can my family come with me to the United States on a TN visa?

Your spouse and your children under 21 may be eligible to come with you to the United States under TN-Dependent (TD) status. If your family members are Canadian citizens, they won’t need a visa to enter the United States. When they arrive at a U.S. port of entry, they’ll only need to prove their Canadian citizenship, their relationship to you, and that you have permission to enter the country under the TN category. To confirm their eligibility to enter the United States, they should bring documents such as their passport, marriage certificate, birth certificate, and a photocopy of your admission documents.

If your spouse and your children are not Canadian, they’ll need to apply for TD nonimmigrant visas at their local U.S. embassy or consulate before traveling. If you have non-Canadian dependents, you will need to apply for a TN visa at your local U.S. consulate or embassy to enable your dependents to apply for TD visas. The TD nonimmigrant visa does not allow your family members to work, but they will be able to study in the United States.

How do you extend your TN visa status?

You may extend your TN visa status in one of two ways. If you are Canadian or Mexican, you can arrange for your U.S.-based employer to file Form I-129 (the “Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker”) on your behalf. They must do so while you are in the United States. Canadians also have the second option of leaving the United States before their status expires and applying for TN status again when they reach a U.S. port of entry.

Are TN visa holders “resident aliens”?

If you stay in the United States for at least three years with TN status, the U.S. government may consider you a “resident alien.” A resident alien is a resident foreigner. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) uses the term resident alien for tax purposes. As a resident alien, you will be subject to the same U.S. income tax guidelines as a typical U.S. citizen.

Suppose you physically reside in your home country of Canada or Mexico and commute to your job in the United States. In that case, the U.S. government will not consider you a “resident alien.”

Can I switch employers while in TN status?

When you come to the United States on a TN visa, you may only work here for the employer associated with your original visa application. If you ever switch employers or consider changing companies, you must re-apply for the TN visa, with your new employer’s sponsorship.

Is the TN visa better than the H-1B visa?

The TN visa and the H-1B visa are great ways to obtain employment authorization in the United States. The TN visa can be a cost-effective option for Canadian and Mexican citizens who qualify. When deciding which visa is right for you, you should first check whether your profession is on the list of qualifying TN specialty professions. The H-1B visa is open to foreign nationals from any country, and you can use this visa for any job requiring a bachelor’s degree or the equivalent in education.