TN Visa Under the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) Preserves the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) Provisions
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. Followed by former president Bill Clinton signing 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 between the three countries, underwent drastic changes. The new agreement that was renamed as United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) took effect July 1, 2020. Despite the number of changes that the trade agreement went through, it retained the NAFTA provisions for work visas without any changes. 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, to promote fair competition, increase investment opportunities, and provide protection and the enforcement of intellectual property rights.
NAFTA created special economic and trade relationships for the three countries. This allowed the citizens of Canada and Mexico, to enter the U.S. under the TN visa, to work in the U.S in prearranged business activities for U.S. or foreign employers.
The TN Visa
The TN visa can be availed only by Canadian and Mexican nationals. The Agreement lists out around 60 professions, that can avail of this visa. The position must be of the nature that it 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 a self-employed professional. The Applicant must prove that they possess the qualifications, meeting the specific requirements of education, and/or experience, of the profession.
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. For a Canadian visa applicant – an application can be filed at the port-of-entry. Alternatively, an employer can file Form I-129, Petition for Nonimmigrant Worker to USCIS. An employer can also expedite this process by way of premium processing. In case of premium processing, USCIS will respond to the application within 15 business days, the TN application is filed through premium processing.
Once the application is approved, the prospective worker may apply for entry into the U.S. at the port-of-entry, by showing Form I-129’s 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 once the visa is approved, may the Mexican nationals seek entry into the U.S. as TN visa holders.
The TN visa is approved for an initial period of up to three years. On the expiry of the term of the visa, an employer can file for an extension of stay on behalf of the TN visa holder, while being inside the U.S. Alternatively, the visa holder can also depart from the U.S. before the expiration of the period of stay and may apply to enter at a U.S. Customs and Border Protection-designated U.S. port of entry.
Spouses and children below the age of 21 years may be eligible to enter the U.S. as dependents of the TN visa holder. This visa is classified as a TD nonimmigrant status. However, 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.