TN Visa

The TN visa is a visa that was created under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The NAFTA is an agreement that exists among Canada, the United States, and Mexico. A TN visa (TN stands for Treaty NAFTA) grants American, Canadian, and Mexican citizens the right to work in a professional occupation in one of the other two countries under the NAFTA. To explore this concept, consider the following TN visa definition.

Definition of TN Visa


  1. A visa that allows Americans, Canadians and Mexicans to work in a professional capacity in one of those three countries under the NAFTA.

Origin of Visa

1825-1835       Short for Latin carta vīsa (“the document [has been] examined”)

What is NAFTA

The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was established to permit American, Canadian, and Mexican citizens to work in a professional capacity in one of the other two countries. Under the NAFTA, citizens of these three countries can choose from a variety of jobs in which to work. A North American trade bloc was created upon the NAFTA being signed by Canada, Mexico, and the U.S. in 1994, which most economists agree has caused moderately positive effects for the U.S., significantly positive effects for Mexico, and insignificant effects for Canada.

TN Visa Requirements

A foreign citizen who wishes to enter the United States must first obtain a visa. The visa can either be a nonimmigrant visa if the person only wishes to stay in the U.S. temporarily, or an immigrant visa if he wishes to move here permanently. In order to work in the United States, Canadian and Mexican citizens must meet the following TN visa requirements:

  • He must qualify to work in the U.S. under the “Professionals under the NAFTA” list.
  • He must possess the criteria necessary for the position he wants to work in.
  • The position actually has a need for someone in that professional capacity.
  • He is a Canadian citizen who wishes to work for a U.S.-based employer.

Canadian citizens, unlike Mexican citizens, are typically eligible for admission into the U.S. as nonimmigrants without a visa. The TN category of a visa simply illustrates this general exemption from the typical requirement. The NAFTA ultimately determines which evidence is necessary in order to prove whether or not a Canadian or Mexican citizen is a professional in a profession that qualifies, per the TN visa requirements.

Missing from the TN visa requirements is the demand that employers keep extensive records on TN workers. If an employer happens to be audited or investigated by the Labor Department or by the Immigration Service, all the employer needs to do is show that the worker who is under investigation is in a valid status with the company.

TN Status

TN status is a special non-immigrant status that a U.S., Canadian, or Mexican citizen can obtain in any of the other two countries, for the purpose of working in one of the professions specified in the NAFTA agreement. TN status enables a person to enjoy an expedited work authorization process.

For example, TN status can enable someone to work in one of the other two countries for a maximum of three years. However, he does not have the right to apply for permanent residence within that country. The TN visa, however, can be renewed indefinitely, allowing him to work in that country for as long as he has the position.

A TN worker’s spouse and dependent children can apply for TN status as well. However, the TN status for a spouse and dependent children cannot be granted for a period of time that exceeds that which was granted to the TN worker. This TN status does not permit the spouse and the children to work in a professional capacity, however they can attend school with it.

How to Apply for a TN Visa

There are many steps involved in applying for a TN visa. Depending on where an applicant applies, the order of the steps and the way in which they are completed may vary. The first step in the process is to complete an application, which is found on the U.S. State Department’s website.

Once the application is approved, then an interview is scheduled. Typically, interviews are only required for individuals aged 14 to 79, but consular officials have the right to interview anyone they choose at random. Depending on the time of year in which the applicant applies, the wait time could be significant, so it is recommended that applicants apply early.

The applicant will be charged certain fees prior to the interview, and there are particular documents that the applicant needs to gather, such as a passport, a recent photo, and the payment receipt for the aforementioned fees. The U.S. Embassy or Consulate may require the applicant to submit additional documentation to prove evidence of the applicant’s intention to leave the U.S. upon the termination of his employment as a NAFTA professional.

Next comes the interview process, during which a consular officer determines whether or not the applicant is eligible to receive the visa. Digital fingerprint scans may also be taken. Applicants are advised during the interview process not to make final travel plans or buy tickets until they receive their visas, as there is no guarantee that they will pass the application process.

Unless the visa is canceled or revoked, it is valid until its date of expiration. Therefore, if someone is in possession of a valid U.S. visa and an expired passport, the visa is still valid. He may continue to use the valid visa in the expired passport, along with a new valid passport, for the purposes of travelling and admission to the U.S.

Occupations under TN Visa Status

NAFTA specifies a number of occupations under TN visa status, by which non-immigrants may work in the three nations. These comprise a rather diverse collection of employment opportunities, though many of the occupations under TV visa status require a college degree, some even requiring an advanced degree. The following are a few examples of occupations under TV visa status:

General Medical Science Education
Architect Dentist Biochemist College Teacher
Engineer Doctor Epidemiologist University Teacher
Lawyer Pharmacist Geneticist Seminary Teacher
Land Surveyor Registered Nurse Meteorologist
Geographer Pharmacist Zoologist

Obtaining a Green Card after TN Visa

Obtaining a green card after TN visa status in the United States can be a rather complicated process. All of the nonimmigrant statuses that are authorized for work purposes, including TN status, require that a foreign national eventually return to his or her country of origin once the work is complete. Some work-authorized statuses build in what is called “dual intent,” however TN status is not one of them.

Dual intent means that a person who is currently on U.S. soil, in a nonimmigrant status, can still apply for permanent residency so he can live in the U.S. Of course, even if a nonimmigrant may have originally stated to U.S. immigration that he intended to someday leave the U.S., he may decide that he would like to become a permanent resident.

The tricky thing is that Canadians and Mexicans who are interested in obtaining a green card after TN visa status can actually lose their TN status if they decide to apply for a green card. Upon losing one’s TN status, he could potentially be deported back to his home country. In this case, there are alternatives to obtaining a green card after TN visa residency that would still enable a nonimmigrant to become a permanent resident of the U.S.

One such way is through employment. For example, TN visa holders can apply for one of the other nonimmigrant statuses, which do actually benefit from dual intent, such as the H-1B or the L-1 status. The H-1B status is very similar to a TN visa, while the L-1 status (which is subdivided into L-1A and L-1B) requires more from both the applicant and his employer. Those interested in seeking an L-1 visa would benefit from consulting with an immigration attorney first.

Those interested in becoming U.S. citizens can also apply for a permanent residence via family-based immigration. Spouses who have either been admitted to the U.S. under a dual intent nonimmigrant status, or who are otherwise able to apply for their own permanent residencies, can include their spouses on their green card applications as dependents. Else, a nonimmigrant’s relatives who are permanent residents of the United States can file immigrant visa petitions on their nonimmigrant relative’s behalf.

Effect of Criminal Conviction on Immigration Status

Effects of criminal conviction on immigration status can be severe. Even if someone isn’t arrested or convicted, just simply being involved with a crime can put someone’s TN visa at risk, especially if that person is interested in someday obtaining a green card to permanently live in the U.S. For example, TN visa holders are investigated by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) upon showing interest in becoming permanent residents. This is done to rule out any past criminal activity and ensure that the applicant is entirely eligible to apply for a permanent residency.

In particular, USCIS looks for acts of moral turpitude or prior involvement with drugs. They also look for any prior encounters with law enforcement, whether or not the crime could be considered serious, and regardless of whether the person was arrested or convicted. The sole exception to the rule wherein the effects of criminal conviction on immigration status can be overlooked are those relating to traffic violations. USCIS looks to see if someone who is interested in a permanent residency could be considered “inadmissible” to the U.S.

TN Visa Example of Denial

A TN visa holder’s application for a green card may be denied based on the fact that he is guilty of crimes of moral turpitude. Crimes of moral turpitude fit into three primary categories: fraud, larceny, or the intent to cause personal harm or destruction of property. There are numerous crimes of moral turpitude, including lying on an immigrant visa application. This crime is a fraud against the United States government.

Other crimes of moral turpitude include:

If the applicant lies to avoid revealing a past crime, then the problem becomes more severe, especially if the past crime involved moral turpitude. If the applicant is guilty of two crimes of moral turpitude, he will automatically be denied a TN visa, and be rendered inadmissible to the U.S. He will also be considered permanently ineligible for a TN visa, should he attempt to apply for one again in the future.

Related Legal Terms and Issues

  • Summary Judgment – A final decision on the case, handed down by the judge on the basis of the statements and evidence presented, without a full trial.
  • Trade Bloc – A type of agreement wherein barriers to trade are either reduced or eliminated among the states participating in the agreement.