The North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, gave Mexican (as well as Canadian) citizens a relatively easy path to obtaining work authorization in the United States. One of these key provisions is the TN program, which allows certain Mexican or Canadian professionals to enter the U.S. and work for a U.S. employer. And fortunately, the TN program was preserved in the agreement that replaced NAFTA, called the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement or USMCA.
(See the regulations at 8 C.F.R. § 214.6.)
For Mexican citizens, however, U.S. immigration law and regulations can still throw in a few roadblocks. This article reviews some difficulties you might encounter as a Mexican citizen, and what can you do to navigate the process.
Unlike Canadian citizens, Mexican citizens seeking to enter the U.S. as TN workers must first apply for a TN visa stamp at a U.S. consulate or embassy. As a Mexican citizen, you will need to keep this in mind if you are planning to accept a TN position with a U.S. employer.
The fee for a visa application is slightly more (as of 2022), U.S. $160, versus the U.S. $50 a Canadian national must pay.
You will also have to plan for the additional time you will need to wait for an available appointment with a U.S. consular post as well as the processing time needed for the consulate to issue your visa. Further, if you do not live near a U.S. consular post, you will need to plan ahead for any necessary travel inside Mexico.
These additional hurdles add to the lead time you will need to allot before you can enter the United States. For example, the U.S. consulate at Ciudad Juarez oversees a significant number of visa applications. You might need to wait weeks for the first available visa appointment , depending on the time of year, tourism and travel seasons, and the volume of applications being processed.
Other consular posts, such as the U.S. embassy in Mexico City, might have longer or shorter wait times. Take these factors into consideration when planning your TN application.
After attending your visa appointment, the consular post will still need to complete processing of your application. This can take as few as two days but can be much longer. The times of year and visa processing volumes have an affect here, too. You can view the wait times to get an appointment and processing times for visa applications on the State Department's website.
Once your TN visa has been approved and you have received your TN visa stamp, you might notice that the visa stamp is valid for a maximum of one year . However, the law says that TN workers may stay and work in the U.S. for periods of up to three years.
These different periods illustrate the difference between a "visa," which is an entry document used only upon arrival in the U.S., and "status," which is the period you may remain in the country after arriving. The immigration officer should note your status in your passport, likely near the visa, and you can find it on your I-94 Departure Record, which is available on the Customs and Border Protection website.
The important thing to realize is that your TN visa stamp only allows you to apply for entry (and reentry) to the United States during its validity period. A one-year date on the stamp does not necessarily mean that you can stay in the United States for one year. That's up to the officials at the U.S. border or other port of entry to decide (as discussed below).
And even if your permitted stay is going to run out, you may apply for extensions of your TN stay, without necessarily leaving the U.S., so long as your TN profession in the United States continues.
If you need to travel abroad from the U.S. and return, you must have a valid TN visa stamp in your passport in order to reenter. Pay attention to the validity period of your TN visa stamp in case it expires while you're still legally within the United States in TN status. As long as your period of stay remains valid, as noted on your I-94 Departure Record, the visa expiration is not a problem. Rather, you just need to get a new visa on your next trip abroad. For information on getting an extension, see How Long Can You Stay in the U.S. on a TN Visa?
U.S. consular posts in Mexico are almost always staffed with immigration officers fluent in Spanish. That being said, you should be prepared to present English translations of any of your application materials that are in the Spanish language.
For example, as a TN applicant, you will likely need to present your degree(s) and transcript(s) from your college or university education. If these documents are in Spanish, you should strongly consider having a certified translator translate these documents into English. Including such translations with your materials can facilitate the processing of your application.
If your college or university degree is not from an institution in Mexico or the U.S., you should have your degree and transcript evaluated by a foreign credentials evaluation service. Such services provide an evaluation of your degree in terms of U.S. equivalencies. This can aid consular officials and let them know you have the right education for the TN. For Mexican university studies, you will need to have obtained the título to qualify for a TN visa.
As noted earlier, the TN visa stamp is only an entry document. You will still have to present the stamp at a U.S. port of entry and apply for admission to the U.S. as a TN worker. This is more or less a second application!
When you apply for entry, you should have your TN application materials ready in case U.S. immigration officials have any questions. You should also be familiar with these materials and how your employer has described the work you will perform in the United States.
Further, you should be careful to note to immigration officials how long your U.S. employer expects to employ you. In some cases, immigration officials might admit you for only the same period as the validity of your TN visa stamp. If your employer needs you for a longer period, make sure to bring this to the attention of U.S. immigration officials.
For more details about the TN application process, or for questions concerning your individual case, contact an immigration attorney.