For Mexican and Canadian citizens who practice certain professional occupations and have a job offer from a U.S. employer, TN status offers a simple route to obtain a U.S. nonimmigrant (temporary) work visa. TN status lasts for one year, and can be renewed in one-year increments, with no limit on renewals. There is no annual cap on TN visas from Mexico or Canada, so no need to worry about waiting lists developing.
The Mexican or Canadian applicant must have a U.S. employer; TN status is not available for self-employment in the United States. For some professions, there are requirements in addition to a degree. Whenever a license is required, one from either a Mexican, Canadian, or U.S. licensing agency from any province or state is acceptable.
The worker does not, however, necessarily need to be coming to the U.S. for a regular, 9 to 5 job. TN status can also be used by people coming for part-time work, temporary training related to their profession, or to conduct seminars.
If the applicant qualifies and properly applies for the visa, and is not otherwise "inadmissible" to the United States, visa approval is very likely. But, a person who intends to separately apply for a green card while in the U.S. can be denied TN status, because he or she violates the requirement that he or she intends to stay only temporarily.
At present, only the occupations listed in Chapter 16, Appendix 2 of the United States-Mexico-Canada (USMCA) Agreement can apply for TN status. Unless stated there, the applicant will also need a bachelor's or licensure degree from a college or university.
This agreement was formerly known as NAFTA. As of July 1, 2020, however, the USMCA went into effect, replacing NAFTA. The TN visa was mostly unaffected by the new trade agreement. In fact, the text regarding the TN visa in NAFTA has been largely reproduced in Chapter 16. As of August 2020, no new regulations or policies for adjudication or enforcement of the TN visa have been published.
Warning: As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, the U.S./Canada border has been closed for all nonessential travel. People seeking to obtain a TN visa to work in the U.S. are still able to obtain work authorization despite the closures. However, TN applicants may experience increased scrutiny at the border to ensure that their travel is essential. Traveling by air can avoid this issue.
The primary advantage of the treaty professional procedure is avoiding the potentially long delays that follow filing a visa petition in the United States (the usual procedure for other nonimmigrant visas, such as H-1Bs).
TN status is also useful for Canadians and Mexicans who have used up their six years of H-1B status, but wish to continue working in the United States. That is because there is no formal legal limit on the number of times TN status can be renewed, nor the number of years one can spend working in TN status. Similarly, TN status is helpful for first-time H‑1B applicants who find that the annual supply of H-1B visas has run out.
And, because the list of professions qualifying for TN status is fairly lengthy, this status is beneficial for some people whose profession could never qualify them for an H-1B visa in the first place.
The main disadvantage is that professional workers using the TN instead of a standard H-1 visa must show that they intend to return to Mexico or Canada when their work in the U.S. is finished. Therefore, if the person plans to apply for a green card, it's best to, if possible, first get a standard H-1 visa, which does not have these restrictions. (Unfortunately, not all professional TN categories qualify for an H-1B visa.)
Another problem is that if the applicant has a difficult case and is denied entry to the U.S. as a treaty professional, there is no appeal available. The only option is to reapply, after attempting to fix whatever problems the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol official noted in the first application.
By contrast, when a standard H-1 visa petition is denied, or if the worker applies for a TN status extension or change of status by filing an application with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), there is an avenue by which to appeal the decision through USCIS and, eventually, the U.S. courts.
The next step depends on which country the applicant is from. Citizens of Mexico should consult a local U.S. consulate. Citizens of Canada should see TN Visa Application Procedures for Canadians.