The TN visa was created by the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), to ease the path toward a visa for professional-level workers from Canada as well as Mexico. It offers Canadians a more direct way to obtain a U.S. nonimmigrant (temporary) visa than traditional work visas such as the H-1.
If you haven’t already determined whether you are eligible for a TN visa, see A TN Visa to the U.S. From Mexico or Canada: Who Qualifies?.
Although the basic visa requirements are the same for both Canadians and Mexicans, the procedures to obtain the visa are distinct and separate depending on which country you are from. Below we discuss the procedures specific to citizens of Canada.
TN visa recipients can also bring their spouses and children to the U.S. (in TD status) by providing proof of the family relationship, such as a birth or marriage certificate, within the application process. Family members with TD status cannot legally work in the United States.
A Canadian professional worker may be admitted to the U.S. without advance petition approval or labor certification. In order to apply, the Canadian worker (if in Canada) simply goes straight to any U.S. port of entry (land border crossing, U.S. airport, or U.S. preflight inspection station at a major Canadian international airport). There, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer will adjudicate the application, and the worker can proceed directly into the United States.
Note that a Canadian cannot apply for the TN visa unless actually planning on physically entering the United States that day. In other words, one should not try to apply for the TN visa in advance of the “real” trip.
Although no formal application form is required, the Canadian TN applicant must pay a fee (currently $50, or $56 if crossing the border by car). The spouse and unmarried minor children may accompany the main applicant. Family members must bring proof of the family relationship, such as a marriage or birth certificate. They will be given TD status.
If the worker is already lawfully present in the U.S. (that is, hasn’t overstayed a permitted entry), the U.S. employer can apply for a change of visa status to TN on the person’s behalf. The procedure for doing this is filing a Form I-129 petition and fee ($325 as of October 2016; but due to go up to $460 in December 2016); always check the Forms page of the USCIS website for the latest) with the USCIS Vermont Service Center.
The advantage of this U.S.-based process is that the applicant can avoid a face-to-face meeting with an officer of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) in order to get the TN visa. Many U.S. CBP officers, particularly those located at a U.S./Canada land crossing or a major Canadian international airport, have a reputation for being unduly skeptical, if not confrontational, toward Canadian TN visa applicants.
The applicant will need to have a valid Canadian passport, and supply the following documents:
If mailing these items to USCIS, be sure to send copies only. Sending originals usually results in losing them forever.
Upon entering the U.S., the Canadian TN professional will be given an I-94 card (or if entering the U.S. after spring 2013, the professional will be issued an electronic I-94, accessible online) indicating an authorized stay of up to three years. This period can be extended in three-year increments without leaving the United States.
To file for an extension, the employer must send Form I-129, together with the same types of documents used for the initial application, to the USCIS Vermont Service Center. Alternatively, if the applicant doesn’t mind leaving the U.S., he or she can request an extension by departing before the expiration of his or her TN status and visiting a U.S. consulate in Canada.