Ironically, Canadian professionals have many work “visa” options, even though Canadians for the most part are visa-exempt due to the special relationship between Canada and the U.S. Despite not needing an actual visa in many instances to enter the United States, Canadian professionals must still qualify for an employment classification to work in the U.S. One of the most popular employment classifications for Canadian professionals is the TN visa. The TN is especially attractive because there is no limit to the number issued each year, the processing times are significantly faster when applying at a port of entry, and it can be renewed indefinitely. However, Canadian professionals should understand and appreciate the benefits, as well as the limitations, of TN status before determining if it is an appropriate classification for their situation. One important characteristic of TN status is that it does not allow for dual intent. Thus, a Canadian professional seeking U.S. permanent residence would want to seriously consider the fact that TN status does not lead to a green card.
The TN classification is an immigration benefit provided by the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), a treaty between the United States, Canada and Mexico. In addition to being a Canadian or Mexican citizen, to qualify for TN status one must work in a NAFTA-approved profession and possess the requisite qualifications. There are over 60 professions designated as TN eligible under NAFTA, such as Computer Systems Analyst, Engineer, Research Assistant, Pharmacist, Psychologist, Veterinarian, Plant Breeder, and University Professor just to name a few. The education/experience requirements for each NAFTA profession are also outlined in the agreement. For example, to work as a Computer Systems Analyst one must have a Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree, or a Post-Secondary Diploma/Certificate and three years of experience.
The initial TN application has to be completed at a port of entry with the Canadian professional in attendance. As previously mentioned, it is incumbent upon the applicant to not only prove they will be working in a NAFTA profession, but also establish that they possess the requisite education/experience for the profession. The applicant should bring a letter from their prospective employer describing the NAFTA-approved profession in which they will be employed. Moreover, the TN applicant should bring original employment letters, diplomas and transcripts as evidence of their education and experience. Although it may seem obvious, a TN applicant should also have proof of their Canadian (or Mexican) citizenship.
After the initial TN application at a port of entry, TN holders are generally permitted to renew their status through a United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Service Center. However, the filing fees and processing times for an application through the Service Center are both higher than through the port of entry. While TN status has many advantages for Canadian professionals, it may not always be the appropriate visa category, especially for foreign nationals seeking permanent residence in the United States. It is important for Canadian professionals to review and understand all of their visa options to ensure their immigration goals are being met. Canadian professionals who have questions regarding which visa is most appropriate for their circumstances should consult with an experienced immigration attorney.