The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) established the TN visa to facilitate temporary employment in the U.S. for certain Canadian and Mexican citizens. NAFTA was signed in 1992 by the presidents of the three countries, the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. After former President Bill Clinton signed it into law on December 8, 1993, NAFTA took effect from January 1, 1994.
When former President Donald Trump took power, after much negotiation, the 24-year-old trade agreement underwent drastic changes. The new version, renamed the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), took effect July 1, 2020. Despite numerous changes, the trade agreement retained the NAFTA provisions for work visas intact. The retention of the visa program was a significant relief to workers in more than 60 professions and employers across the continent.
The primary purpose of NAFTA, and now the USMCA, is to facilitate cross-border movement of goods and services, promote fair competition, increase investment opportunities, provide protection and the enforcement of intellectual property rights, etc.
NAFTA created special economic and trade relationships for the three countries. This allowed citizens of Canada and Mexico, to enter the U.S. under the TN visa, and work in prearranged business activities for U.S. or foreign employers.
The TN Visa
The TN visa can be obtained only by Canadian and Mexican nationals, who can then work in approximately 60 professions. The position must be one that requires a TN professional. The TN applicant must work in a prearranged full-time or part-time job for an employer. TN visas are not issued for self-employed professionals. The applicant must prove that they possess the qualifications for the profession, meeting specific requirements of education, and/or experience.
Applying for the TN Visa is a complex process with multiple steps to be completed at the U.S. Embassy, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), or consulate. A Canadian visa applicant can file an application at the port-of-entry. Alternatively, an employer can file Form I-129, Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker with USCIS. An employer can also expedite this process by filing through premium processing, in which case, USCIS will respond to the application within 15 business days.
Once the application is approved, the prospective worker may apply for entry into the U.S. at the port-of-entry by showing the Form I-129 approval notice and proof of Canadian citizenship. Unlike Canadian nationals, Mexican nationals cannot request the TN visa directly at the port of entry. They must have an approved TN visa through the U.S. embassy or consulate in Mexico. Only then, may the Mexican nationals seek entry into the U.S. as a TN visa holder.
The TN visa is approved for an initial period of up to three years. Once that term expires, an employer can file for an extension of stay while the TN visa holder remains inside the U.S. Alternatively, the visa holder can depart from the U.S. before the period of stay expires, and may apply to enter at a U.S. Customs and Border Protection-designated U.S. port of entry.
The TN visa holder’s spouse and children below the age of 21 years may be eligible to enter the U.S. as dependents. This visa is classified as a TD nonimmigrant status. Spouses and children of TN visa holders are not permitted to work while they live in the U.S., but they are permitted to study. The period of stay granted will not be longer than the period of stay for the TN visa holder.