The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was passed by Congress in 1993 and established a common trading zone affecting economic relationships between the United States, Mexico and Canada. As a new era of trade was ushered in between the three nations, it became necessary to alter some of the rules governing the flow of foreign workers crossing the borders. Under this agreement, certain foreign nationals from Mexico and Canada are eligible to seek a NAFTA Professional TN Visa, which allows temporary entrance into the U.S. for specific work-related purposes.
This page was designed to help foreign professionals learn more about this long-standing agreement and decide whether or not they should seek an immigration lawyer to apply for a NAFTA Professional TN Visa. The following topics are covered on this page:
- NAFTA Basics
- What is a NAFTA Professional TN Visa?
- How Do I Apply for a TN Visa?
- Can My Family Join Me?
- Do I Need An Immigration Attorney?
In 1993, the U.S., Canada and Mexico came to an agreement on NAFTA, also known as the North American Free Trade Agreement. It went into full effect under President Bill Clinton in 1994. The landmark agreement lifted bans in Mexico on U.S. banks, eliminated tariffs on cars assembled in Mexico and shipped to the U.S., and eliminated barriers on agricultural trade between the three countries.
Article 1603 of the agreement states, “Each party shall grant temporary entry to business persons who are otherwise qualified for entry under the applicable measures relating to public health and safety and national security.” According to the U.S. Department of State, the number of NAFTA Professional TN Visas issued between 2011 and 2015 increased by almost 154 percent.
What is a NAFTA Professional TN Visa?
A TN visa is special type of temporary, nonimmigrant visa designated specifically for Canadian and Mexican professionals. In order to qualify for this type of visa, a Mexican or Canadian professional must intend their visit to the U.S. to be temporary, and have no intention of giving up residence in their home country. The worker must also have a job requiring travel to the U.S.
The NAFTA Professional TN Visa allows the foreign worker to stay in the country for up to three years.
The law defines the term ‘professional’ as a person engaged in a job requiring at least a baccalaureate degree, or appropriate credentials demonstrating status as a professional. The regulation details some specific professional occupations and educational requirements that qualify a person for a TN Visa. The following list, which can also be found at Export.gov, includes a few examples:
- Computer Systems Analyst
- Hotel Manager
- Industrial Designer
- Land Surveyor
- Landscape Architect
- Management Consultant
- Mathematician (includes Statistician)
- Range Conservationist
- Scientific Technician
- Soil Scientist
- Sylviculturist/Forestry Specialist
- Technical Publications Writer
- Urban Planner
While many jobs are described in the above list, it is by no means exhaustive. The law allows for several other types of professionals to obtain a NAFTA TN Professional Visa including: architects interior designers, land surveyors, librarians, physical therapists, psychologists, veterinarians, and urban planners among others.
Unfortunately, self-employed workers are not eligible to apply for a NAFTA Professional TN Visa. In August of 2016, News West 9 in Midland Texas reported on the case of a Canadian attorney who pled guilty in U.S. federal court to lying about ownership of a law firm.
After coming to the U.S. on a TN Visa in 1997, he purchased an American law firm and operated as its majority share holder, in violation of the terms of his TN visa. Assistant U.S. Attorney Bill Lewis told the media that the case marked the first time he had prosecuted a NAFTA Professional TN Visa holder for lying about self employment.
If you have questions about the types of workers who can obtain a NAFTA TN Professional Visa, a qualified immigration attorney might be able to help.
How Do I Apply for a NAFTA Professional TN Visa?
We first highly recommend that you speak with an immigration lawyer before taking any action. Generally, a Canadian citizen is not required to apply for a TN visa at a U.S. consulate. Rather, they may establish their TN eligibility at a U.S. Port of entry by presenting the required documentation to a U.S. Customs and Border Protection Officer.
This documentation includes proof of Canadian citizenship, a letter from the prospective employer detailing the specific professional activity to be engaged in, and documentation of diploma.
A Canadian citizen’s employer may also file a Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker (Form I-129) on his or her behalf. This is filed through U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Once the I-129 is approved, the Canadian citizen can present the required documentation at a designated U.S. Customs and Border Protection port of entry.
It is important to understand that exceptions to the rules governing Canadian TN status do exist. Canadian citizens who reside in a third country with a non-Canadian spouse, are required to obtain a NAFTA Professional TN Visa before entering into the U.S.
Generally, a Mexican citizen must obtain a NAFTA Professional TN Visa prior to entrance into the U.S. This is typically done at a U.S. consulate in Mexico.
In many cases, the Mexican worker must file for a Nonimmigrant Visa (Form DS-160) through the U.S. Department of State. A consulate officer will also likely conduct an interview. During the interview, the Mexican citizen will have an opportunity to present the required documentation, which includes: proof of Mexican citizenship, a contract or letter of employment in the U.S. and documentation proving the applicant meets the minimum educational requirements.
Can My Family Join Me?
Generally speaking, yes they can. Spouses and unmarried minor children (under 21 years old) can accompany the foreign worker under TD status. However, family members generally cannot accept employment during their stay in the country. They may, however, attend school full time.
Other individuals who can accompany a foreign worker on a TN Visa include domestic servants. However, the servant will first need to apply for a Temporary Business Visitor, or B-1 Visa.
Do I Need An Attorney?
While a foreign worker seeking to gain a temporary visa is not required to retain a lawyer, the application process can be daunting and complex. Each case is different and comes with its own unique nuances. An experienced lawyer can help a client to determine what their visa eligibility is, and potentially prevent costly time-consuming mistakes. If you would like to know more about how an immigration attorney can help you, call our office for more information.