If you are a Mexican or Canadian citizen, TN status can be an ideal means of legally entering and working in the United States. Current U.S. laws and regulations say that Mexican and Canadian citizens can stay in the U.S. in TN status for periods up to three years. Even better, TN workers are supposed to be able to extend their stays indefinitely, in three-year increments, so long as they satisfy the requirements under the TN program.
The reality, of course, is a bit less rosy. The actual amount of time you can stay and work in the U.S. as a TN depends on a few key factors. Let’s look at what can affect your TN status.
As mentioned earlier, current laws and regulations say that you can be admitted as a TN worker for periods of up to three years. However, when you apply to enter the U.S. as a TN worker, U.S. immigration officials can decide to admit you for a shorter period. If, for example, an immigration officer determines that your TN job in the U.S. will last for only a two-year period, your Form I-94 card will likely state that you will be permitted to stay in the U.S. for only two years.
When immigration officials are deciding how long to admit you as a TN worker, they are focusing on how long your TN position in the U.S. will last. A management consulting position for a single merger between two companies, for example, will likely last only until the merger is completed. Similarly, a graphic designer position creating a single website for a client would likely not take a full three years to finish. Immigration officials will use common sense in ferreting out how long your TN position will last.
Your employer can help immigration officials here by providing an offer of employment letter clearly outlining the duties of your TN position and how long your employer expects the position to last. Keep in mind that the duration requested for a TN stay has to make sense with the TN position offered! A single-project independent contractor job might not realistically take a whole three years, but a position working with multiple clients might.
Keep in mind that as a TN, you must establish what is called "nonimmigrant intent." This means that you must show the U.S. immigration authorities that you do not intend to stay in the U.S. permanently and that you will eventually return to your home country. This concept might sound a bit odd, considering that TNs can be extended indefinitely, but failing to take this into account can have dire consequences for your TN status. Even taking steps towards permanent residence can put your TN status in jeopardy. Contact an immigration attorney if you have questions on nonimmigrant intent or are hoping to obtain U.S. lawful permanent residence (a green card).
Thankfully, the process for extending your stay in TN status is relatively streamlined. There are a couple of options to extend TN status; each option does have timing issues you should consider well in advance.
One way of extending your TN is through an I-129 extension petition filed by your employer with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). So long as USCIS determines that your work continues to satisfy the requirements for a TN position, it will extend your stay. The same caveats noted earlier about how much time immigration officials will actually grant you still apply.
You should be aware of the processing times for extension petitions. The earliest your employer may file an extension petition for you is six months before the end of your current TN status. At the time of this article, USCIS processing times for TN extensions varied between two months and a whopping seven months. USCIS has a Premium Processing service available where, for an additional fee, your extension is processed in 15 calendar days. Bear in mind, though, that USCIS may still ask for additional evidence or documents, delaying your case.
Reapplying for TN status at a land border, airport, seaport, or other port of entry can be a quicker way to extend your authorized TN stay. Instead of waiting for USCIS to decide on a petition, you can leave the U.S., head to a U.S. port of entry, and follow the same TN application process as before. However, this method carries certain risks and timing issues you should know about.
The most obvious risk is that if you leave the U.S. and are denied your TN reapplication, you could be prevented from returning to the United States. You should make sure that your TN application materials strongly show that your employment satisfies the TN requirements.
If you are a Mexican citizen, you may need to apply for a new TN visa stamp if your current one has expired. This means that you will have to wait until the first available visa interview appointment at a U.S. consular post to apply for the visa. Even if you are issued a new TN visa stamp, you will still have to use that stamp to apply for TN status at a U.S. port of entry. Plan well in advance if you are in this situation.
What if you have been offered an entirely new position with a different U.S. employer? So long as your new position still satisfies the requirements for TN status, this should not be a problem. Your new employer can file an I-129 TN extension for you, or you can apply as before at a U.S. port of entry.
Either method can extend your TN status, but you should remember that all of the same timing issues and risks noted above still apply.
For more details about the TN application process, or for questions concerning your specific TN application, contact an immigration attorney for assistance.