The North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, brought a few excellent changes that give Mexican (as well as Canadian) citizens a relatively easy path to obtaining work authorization in the United States. One of these key improvements is the TN program, which allows certain Mexican or Canadian professionals to enter the U.S. and work for a U.S. employer.
For Mexican citizens, however, U.S. immigration law and regulations can still throw in a few roadblocks. What difficulties might you encounter as a Mexican citizen, and what can you do to navigate the process?
(For general eligibility rules, see TN Visa Eligibility for Canadian and Mexican Citizens).
Unlike Canadian citizens, Mexican citizens seeking to enter 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 early 2012, US$140, versus the US$50 a Canadian national must pay). You will also have to account 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 adjudicate your application. 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 may need to wait for at least a week or longer for the first available visa appointment there, 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, may have lighter application volumes and shorter wait times. Take these factors into consideration when planning your TN application. To see and request available visa appointments, visit the following website: http://usvisa-info.com.
After you have attended your visa appointment, the consular post will still need to complete processing of your application. This process can take as few as two days, but can be much longer. The times of year and visa processing volumes have an effect here, too. You can view the processing times for visa applications at the following site: http://travel.state.gov/content/visas/english/general/wait-times.html/.
Once your TN visa has been approved and you have received your TN visa stamp, you may notice that the visa stamp is valid for only one year or a similar period. However, the law says that TN workers may stay and work in the U.S. for periods of up to three years. What's going on with this?
The important thing to realize is that your TN visa stamp acts as a “door knocker,” allowing you to apply for entry – and reentry – to the United States during that time period. A one-year date on the stamp does not necessarily mean that the person 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 runs out, you may apply for extensions of your TN stay, without necessarily leaving the U.S., so long as you have a valid TN profession in the United States.
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. 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 degrees and transcripts from your college or university education. If these documents are drafted in the Spanish language, you should strongly consider having a certified translator translate these documents into English. Including such translations with your materials can increase the likelihood of your visa application being approved.
The U.S. Department of State, which oversees the U.S. consular posts, is directing immigration officers to verify that an applicant’s educational credentials are equivalent to what might be issued by an accredited college or university in the United States. This means that immigration officials might not recognize your particular educational institution and delay or deny your TN visa application.
If your college or university degree is from an institution in Mexico or otherwise outside the U.S., you should have your degree and transcript evaluated by a foreign credentials evaluation service. These services will provide you with an evaluation that can aid immigration officials and let them know you have the right education for the TN.
As noted earlier, the TN visa stamp is only a door knocker. 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 immigration officials have any questions. You should also be familiar with these materials and your employment 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 may only admit you for the same period as the validity of your TN visa stamp. If your employer needs you for a longer period, you should make sure to bring this to the attention of immigration officials.
For more details about the TN application process, or for questions concerning your individual case, contact an immigration attorney.