TN Visa Requirements Under NAFTA

Take a few minutes to understand what is expected of you in your TN visa application.

For Canadian and Mexican citizens, the nonimmigrant TN status can be a relatively quick and less demanding means of lawfully entering the U.S. and taking up professional employment. As with all U.S. immigration matters, you will need to prepare in advance and make sure that you can satisfy certain requirements. Let’s look at those requirements and the materials you will need.

TN status is rooted in the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA. Under the NAFTA, Canadian and Mexican citizens who have been offered a position in the U.S. that fits within one of the NAFTA-approved professions can apply to enter and work in the U.S. in that position. The complete list of NAFTA professions is found in Appendix 1603.D.1 of Chapter 16 of the NAFTA; you can also find this list under Section 214.6(c) of Chapter 8 of the Code of Federal Regulations.

If you are a citizen of Mexico or Canada, and a U.S. employer has offered you a position that fits under one of the NAFTA-listed professions, you may be able to apply to enter and work in the U.S. as a TN professional. The procedures vary slightly depending on whether you are a Mexican or Canadian national, but the documentation you will need to show is largely the same.

Required Documentation To Apply

The documents that you will need to prepare and show with your application for a TN visa includes evidence of:

  • your Mexican or Canadian citizenship
  • the fact that you will be employed in a professional capacity under the NAFTA
  • your having the required professional credentials, and
  • how long the job will last, as well as your salary.

Evidence of your Mexican or Canadian citizenship

You might think this is a no-brainer, but proving your citizenship can be more challenging than you think.  The accepted standard for citizens of either country is a current, valid passport. If you are a Canadian citizen but do not have a valid passport, you can present alternative evidence proving your citizenship, such as your original or certified copy of your Canadian birth certificate or an original or certified copy of your Canadian Certificate of Citizenship. However, if you are a Mexican citizen, the U.S. immigration authorities will require you to present a current, valid Mexican passport. If you are a Mexican citizen seeking a TN, you will have to factor in the time needed to apply for your passport if you do not yet have one.

Evidence showing you will be employed in a professional capacity under the NAFTA

Even if the title of the U.S. job you’ve just been offered exactly matches one of the NAFTA profession categories in Appendix 1603.D.1 - see this list - you will still have to prove that your proposed job is of “professional” level. Thankfully, the NAFTA spells out for each specific NAFTA profession what you need to show to establish the job is “professional”.

Let’s look at the NAFTA professions in the Appendix for examples:

“Pharmacologist” is a NAFTA profession that requires at least a “Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree.” For a proposed U.S. Pharmacologist position to satisfy the TN requirement that it is “professional,” the position has to require duties that can be fulfilled only by someone who has at least a Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree in a field related to Pharmacology.

“Graphic Designer,” on the other hand, is a NAFTA profession requiring either a “Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree” or a “Post–Secondary Diploma or Post–Secondary Certificate and three years of experience.” A Graphic Designer position thus has to require duties that can be fulfilled only by someone meeting those educational and experience credentials.

Fortunately, proving that your TN position is “professional” can be as simple as having your employer provide you with an offer letter detailing the position and why the employer needs someone meeting the requirements of the particular NAFTA profession. Such a letter should break down your job duties and clearly explain why those duties can only be performed by someone of a “professional” level. (Find more on what to include in these letters here.)

You can also submit any other evidence that might show that the job typically requires professionals, including industry or scientific journals, previous advertisements by your employer for the job, listings of other employees in the same position and their credentials, and other similar proof.

U.S. immigration officials are increasingly requiring proof that your employer is indeed a real, active business, organization, or other place of employment.  You should be prepared to show your employer’s Federal Tax ID Number, your employer’s annual report or business plan if available, or any other documents showing your U.S. employer is a real and active place of work.

Proof that you have the required professional credentials

It should not be surprising that you will have to prove that you meet the education and/or experience requirements for your NAFTA profession.  For example, a “Pharmacologist” will have to show that they possess a Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree.  U.S. immigration will not accept anything else but what is listed in the NAFTA professions list.  For example, you will not be able to substitute work experience if a degree is required.

However, if your degree is from an educational institution outside the United States, you will need to have your degree evaluated by a foreign credentials evaluator, who will determine the U.S. equivalent of your foreign degree.  If your degree is from a non-U.S. institution, you’ll need to have this evaluation ready with your degree when you apply.

If you are trying to establish years of experience to fulfill a NAFTA profession requirement, U.S. immigration will look for letters from your past employers confirming your prior periods of employment and your past duties.  Plan accordingly if you need to obtain such letters.  If you are relying on self-employment experience, you should have at the ready any business records detailing your work and the time spent on that work.  Letters of reference from former clients or associates will be helpful as well.

Proof of how long the job will last and salary

Under current regulations, U.S. immigration can admit Mexican and Canadian citizens for periods up to three years. However, the actual amount of time you for which will be admitted depends largely on the duration that U.S. immigration officials determine your TN position will take. Your employer can help by noting in your offer letter or somewhere else the proposed duration of the job.

Immigration officials will also need to see how your U.S. employer will be paying you. You should be ready to present your employer’s proposed salary for you. Your employer can also put this information your offer letter.

Differences Between Canadian and Mexican TN Applications

While Canadians can go to a major port of entry at a land border crossing, international airport, seaport, or other route, and directly apply for TN status, Mexican citizens must first apply for a TN visa stamp at a U.S. embassy or consulate before they can enter the United States. If you are a Mexican citizen, you should check with your nearest U.S. consulate post first, to find out its procedures for applying for a visa. (Our article, Advice for Mexicans Applying for TN Visa, written by yours truly, offers great tips to help.)

Again, the materials you will need to show are largely the same as for a Canadian citizen. Keep in mind that you may have a longer wait in getting a visa appointment at a consular post.

What to Expect at the U.S. Port of Entry

When you apply for entry to the U.S. under TN status, you should be prepared to show all of your applicable evidence to a U.S. immigration official. Typically, U.S. immigration will have a NAFTA or Free Trade officer who specializes in handling TN applications oversee your case.

Be prepared and review your materials before you go to apply, as the U.S. immigration officer will ask you questions regarding your proposed TN position and your entry to the U.S. If you are a Mexican citizen, you should also be prepared to present your valid Mexican passport and valid TN visa stamp in addition to the materials noted earlier.

Don’t be discouraged if immigration officials do not approve your application right away! Oftentimes, immigration officials will identify weak areas in an application, or materials they would like you to show before they will approve the TN. If an officer asks you for specific materials, get those items to the officer right away and work with him or her.

For more details about the TN application process, or for questions concerning your TN application, see an immigration lawyer licensed to practice in the U.S.

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