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. As of July 1, 2020, the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) replaced NAFTA including the provisions that govern the TN visa. The TN regulations can be found in Chapter 16 of the USMCA, and they remain largely the same as was provided in NAFTA with only minor changes to the list of professions that qualify for TN status. The TN visa 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.
WARNING: As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S./Mexico and U.S./Canada borders have closed for all nonessential travel. The Department of State advises that essential travel includes crossing the border to work in the U.S. and traveling to engage in cross-border trade. Other non-employment related activities such as engaging in military-related travel, traveling to attend education institutions, traveling for emergency response and public health purposes, engaging in official government or diplomatic travel, and entering the U.S. for medical reasons are also considered essential travel. People seeking to obtain a TN visa to work in the U.S. are still able to obtain work authorization despite the closures, but due to the essential travel requirement, TN applicants might experience increased scrutiny to ensure that their travel is essential. However, as of summer 2020, these travel restrictions do not apply to air travel.
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 open 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.
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.
What if you're denied at the border? If the officer tells you that your application lacks a certain element, or needs clarification that you can provide through further documentation, your best bet might be to return home, gather the requested information, and try again.
While not required, returning to the same port of entry where you made your initial application can be a good idea. You might be able to see the same CBP officer, which makes the entire process run more smoothly. (The CBP officer who handled your matter should be listed at the bottom of the CBP eligibility checklist.) If that officer is no longer on duty, you will be reviewed by a new officer.
Another option, which is especially useful if you've had a TN visa denied at the border, is to apply ahead of time, through USCIS. You'll then need to present your approval notice to CBP when you seek U.S. admission.
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 ($460 in 2020; check 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.
Canadian TN applicants must pay a $50 fee when entering the U.S, or $56 if crossing the border by car. Upon entering the U.S., the Canadian TN 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, an applicant who doesn’t mind leaving the U.S. can request an extension by departing before the expiration of TN status and visiting a U.S. consulate in Canada.