The TN Category

The TN category is an attractive option for Canadian or Mexican citizens with certain college degrees to work in the United States.  The TN category was created with the passage and ratification of the North American Free Trade Agreement (“NAFTA”) in 1994.  It was designed to allow freedom of movement and employment for certain professionals in Canada, the United States, and Mexico.  The idea was to allow well educated persons from one member country to be able to work temporarily in another member country with as few restrictions as possible.  This was to promote competition by allowing the best trained and well educated to be able to work in the country of their choice.  U.S. companies can improve their competiveness by being able to hire highly skilled employees from Canada or Mexico for technical occupations without the need for long waiting periods associated with other types of work visas.  At least this was the theory.  How it has worked out in practice is a different matter altogether.  The fact remains, however, that the TN category does provide very real benefits to those Canadian or Mexican workers who qualify.

Who may qualify for the TN visa?

The TN is not for everyone.  In fact, it is elitist in the sense that only highly educated individuals from Canada or Mexico may qualify.  Further, a college education by itself is insufficient because the TN requires a bachelor’s degree in specific, enumerated professions, such as scientists, engineers, programmers, research assistants, management consultants, social workers, accountants, dentists, dietitians, laboratory technologists, nutritionists, pharmacists, physical therapists, psychologists, registered nurses, and veterinarians.  For a full listing of the approved occupations and their education requirements visit this website:

If your profession is on the list of approved NAFTA occupations, you will still need to establish that:

  • You qualify for the job on account of your education, experience, or training.  That is, if you are seeking admission as a dentist, do you have the requisite education, training, and licensure to practice as a dentist in the U.S?
  • The job that you have been offered in the U.S. requires a person with your education, experience, or training.   Using the example above, a manufacturing company would need to justify its desire to hire a dentist because such occupation is unusual for the intended field.
  • Your employer is based in the U.S.

 What makes the TN a good choice?

  • No long queues.  Unlike some other visa categories, there are no annual numerical limitations for TN visas.  That means you will not have to compete for a limited number of spaces each year, or wait until a new fiscal year begins before working.  If you are admitted as a TN professional, you may begin working immediately.  You do not need to file an application with USCIS for TN status, with all the attendant bureaucratic delays associated with such filings.   For Canadians, the process is extremely quick because you may apply for and be admitted as a TN worker at the port of entry without the need to secure a visa beforehand if your supporting documents are in good order.  You will be issued an I-94 card which indicates your TN status.  For Mexican citizens, there is a little bit of a lag time because you are required to apply for a visa, but the wait is not extraordinary in any way.     
  • Multiple use privileges.  You will be permitted to travel in and out of the U.S. multiple times under TN classification or remain here continuously until your TN status expires. 
  • Spouses and children welcome.  Your spouse and children will be able to travel with you under  the TN classification for family members.
  • No “prevailing wage” requirement.   A U.S. employer of a TN professional is not required to pay a certain salary to the employee.   Keep in mind, however, that paying your employee a salary that is significantly less than prevailing wages for similar professionals would probably result in denial of the application even though there is technically no prevailing wage requirement because it calls into question whether the person is being hired is truly a professional. 
  • No time limit.   You are initially admitted for a period of three years.  In theory, for many occupations, there is no limit to the number of times in which you may apply to extend your TN status.  You may apply for extensions while remaining in the U.S.  In 2008, the rules were changed so that each extension may be granted for a maximum period of three years (previously, you were required to apply annually).

Although the TN is a great option for Canadians and Mexicans, it does have certain limitations.  For instance:

  • You may only work for your sponsoring employer and no other.  If you change employers, you will lose TN status.  However, you may request TN status under the new employer if you your new job meets the TN requirements.   
  • Presents a problem for those applying for permanent residence.  The TN category is not considered a “duel intent” category.  It does not confer any immigration benefits because it is a non-immigrant category.  You must establish that you will leave the U.S. once your approved TN period ends.  If you reveal an intent to emigrate to the U.S. permanently (by being sponsored by an employer or spouse), you will no longer qualify for TN status.  An employer who wishes to sponsor an employee for permanent residence but is using the TN as a temporary measure should plan their decisions very carefully.
  • High minimum education requirements.  A college education is a luxury that relatively few people in the world have.  Along with the limitations as to what type of occupations may qualify, the TN category is definitely not designed for the masses.  There are certain TN occupations, however, where a bachelor’s degree is not necessary (i.e., management consultant or graphic designer).  If you wish to enter the U.S. as a management consultant, your experience and training may substitute for a bachelor’s degree.
  • Self employment is not permitted.  If you intend to enter the U.S. to establish a new business, the TN category is not a good choice for you.

If you wish to learn more about the different options available to you under the TN category, contact me for a consultation.

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