More than 20 years on, and the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) continues to churn the wheels of commerce between Canadian, American and Mexican businesses. While some lambast the agreement as an exporter of American jobs, and debate its overall contribution to the global economy, it can’t be denied that NAFTA has made it easier for foreign workers to live and work in the U.S.
As an immigration lawyer, I’m often tasked with the duty of helping foreign workers and their employers decide on the best course of action when temporarily coming to the United States for a job-related stay.
With dozens of visas available to workers, some with overlapping criteria and uses, clients can become overwhelmed with the options. In some cases, the H-1B visa is an excellent choice for professionals with special skills who intend to work temporarily in the U.S. But with only a limited number of H-1B visas issued each year, and more applicants that the system can handle, this option can evaporate rather quickly.
Often times, the NAFTA Professional TN visa is the best option, particularly in the case of Canadian professionals.
NAFTA, A Brief History
The North American Free Trade Agreement was signed into law in late 1993. A product of years of negotiations between Canada, United States and Mexico, the agreement sought to eliminate trade tariffs on goods moving between the three countries. Under the agreement, federal law allows citizens of Canada and Mexico to enter the U.S. temporarily for business-related activates.
The TN visa is granted to foreign professionals engaged in work typically requiring a baccalaureate degree or a credential demonstrating an appropriate level of professional performance. The list of jobs that qualifies a worker for a TN visa includes: management consultants, software engineers, architects, librarians, nurses, geneticists, social workers, and more.
The TN Application Process
In some cases, employers interested in hiring a Canadian professional face less bureaucratic red tape than those hiring Mexican professionals. Typically, a Canadian citizen isn’t required to visit a US consulate before entering the country, and can apply for his or her TN status at a U.S. port of entry. However, prior to entering the country, a Canadian citizen still needs a letter or contract from the prospective employer detailing the work that will be done. This specifically includes a summary of daily responsibilities of the job. The foreign worker is required to declare the length of stay and produce documentation of educational qualifications (college diploma, certification, etc).
In some cases, the employer will file an Application for Nonimmigrant Worker (Form I-129) through US Immigration and Customs Services. Once this application is approved, the worker can seek entrance to the country.
While some employers are more savvy and experienced than others when it comes to hiring foreign workers, I always suggest that if there’s any doubt about how to proceed, consult an attorney. Filing errors can be costly, time consuming and cause problems down the road.
Once a Canadian worker is granted access to the country, their length of stay varies depending on the type of job being done — usually the initial period granted is up to three years. The foreign national who intends to stay longer than three years will be required to apply for an extension.
Don’t Do It Alone
One of the most satisfying aspects of being an immigration lawyer is helping employers and workers find new ways of contributing to an ever-changing business landscape. Talented foreign workers bring new energy and perspective to the workforce and help businesses grow. If you have questions about applying for a TN visa or hiring a Canadian worker, feel free to contact our office to see if we can help.