What Is a TN Visa?

TN visas are for Canadians or Mexicans who have job offers in the United States. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) offers several visa options, including the TN-1 visa for Canadians and the TN-2 visa for Mexicans. The TN-1 visa is designed to be similar to the U.S. HB-1 visa.

Why Is a TN Visa Important?

A TN visa is the fastest way to get a work visa in the United States. You might apply for one if:

  • You're a U.S., Canadian, or Mexican citizen
  • Your job is on the NAFTA Appendix 1603.D job list
  • You have the right qualifications to work in your industry
  • You have a job offer from a U.S., Mexican, or Canadian employer
  • You don't intend to stay in the foreign country forever

Check Chapter 15, Schedule 2 of NAFTA to find more information on how to qualify for a TN visa.

Your spouse and unmarried kids under the age of 21 can come with you under your TN-2 visa. You must provide proof of your relation, such as birth or marriage certificates. Your family members will get a TD visa, which does not allow them to work.

How to Apply for a TN Visa

If you're a Canadian citizen, you can apply for a TN visa when you reach the U.S. border or airport. Mexican citizens must reach the U.S. Consulate before applying. You should have your documents ready whether you apply at the border or the Consulate. United States border control has become more thorough during visa application inspections. Required documents include:

  • Proof that you're a Canadian, U.S., or Mexican citizen
  • A letter from your new employer
  • A job description, which includes your title and what you'll be doing
  • The length of the employment, up to three years
  • How you'll be paid for your job
  • Your education or occupation credentials
  • US$50 to file your application
  • US$6 fee for the I94 form
  • Form DS-160, Nonimmigrant Visa Electronic Application
  • Proof you comply with Department of Homeland Security and/or state laws

Bring any extra documents that show your qualifications. You can apply for a TN visa without a college degree if your profession doesn't need one. Make sure you document your work experience thoroughly.

To help ensure a successful TN visa application:

  • Make sure your job offer matches your educational background.
  • Check the NAFTA job list to find your job.
  • Get your employer to verify your job won't last longer than three years.
  • Make sure your job offer letter has the right information.
  • Read through your documentation before heading to the border.
  • Include all information from your resume.
  • Have employment references that are relevant to your current job offer.
  • Make sure your passport is valid for the next three years.
  • Get any foreign education or qualifications made equivalent to U.S. degrees and qualifications.
  • Find an immigration lawyer on UpCounsel to look at your documents.

On TN-1 Visas

TN-1 Visa Requirements:

  • Be a citizen of Canada (you can show your passport, birth certificate, or naturalization papers)
  • Qualify under the list "Professionals Under the North American Free Trade Agreement"
  • Have a job offer from a U.S. company in one of the eligible professions. The company must need to hire someone with your skills. Their letter of employment must be on official letterhead and list your job as one of the positions on the NAFTA list.
  • Meet your job's education or qualification requirements

Advantages of TN-1 Visas

  • Granted for three years (same length as an H1-B visa)
  • Indefinitely renewable in three-year periods
  • You can apply at the U.S. border Point of Entry (POE) and get your visa very quickly
  • You can also apply at the U.S. airport where you land or at a U.S. inspection point in a major Canadian international airport
  • You can apply with United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) once in the United States under a different visa
  • An easier process with fewer documents than the HB-1 application

Disadvantages of TN-1 Visas

  • Only a small group of professions qualify for TN-1 visas, which means many Canadians don't qualify.
  • Most of those professions need at least a bachelor's degree.
  • Canadians must show they plan to go back to Canada when the visa expires.
  • With each renewal of a TN-1 visa, showing you intend to go back to Canada is more difficult. If you have ties to Canada, such as a Canadian bank account or driver's license, or real estate or family back in Canada, this will help.
  • Every CBP agent is different, so one person might extend your visa while another might revoke it.
  • The intent to return to Canada makes it harder to apply for a green card. The reason: A green card shows you want to stay in the U.S. permanently.

How to Apply for a TN-1 Visa

TN-1 visas are for one employer. If you'll have more than one employer, you need to do more than one application. If you'll be self-employed, a TN-1 visa does not qualify.

When you reach the U.S. border, make sure you have:

  • A job description from your future employer, including how long the job will last. The description should include details that explain how this job is a professional job. It should state that you're the company's direct employee. It should also include your salary. The employer should also describe its business.
  • Proof that you're qualified for the job. That includes your foreign qualifications and any U.S. equivalencies. You can get the equivalencies from U.S. academics. If any of your qualifications are in another language, you need English translations.
  • Your resume/CV
  • Your Canadian passport, any previous passports, any visa stamps, and any I-94s
  • A 2x2 photograph
  • A social security number if you have one
  • Your foreign address
  • The employment contract
  • Information about the company that will employ you, including proof they can pay you
  • A license that lets you work in the United States, if it's relevant to your profession

Your border interview is important. U.S. border officials are trying to keep the country safe. If they feel like you don't qualify, even if your TN application is valid, they'll deny you. You can also research which border entry points are the best ones to go to for this type of visa application. Once you enter the United States, you get an electronic I-94 card.

Reasons to apply at the U.S. border vs. submitting an application to USCIS

  • The fee is lower at POE.
  • The decision to approve or deny your visa happens immediately at POE.
  • You learn the reason your visa is denied at POE immediately. That way you can take steps to fix the problem.
  • USCIS takes a couple of months to review applications.
  • You might have to leave the United States if your USCIS visa application is denied.

On TN-2 Visas

The TN-2 visa is for Mexican professionals who want to work in the U.S. temporarily.

To qualify for a TN-2 Visa, you need:

  • Proof of your Mexican citizenship
  • A Mexican passport that's valid for at least six months after you'll be leaving the United States
  • An offer of employment
  • A profession on the NAFTA list
  • The right credentials for your profession, including degrees and licensing
  • The intention to stay in the U.S. for three years or less
  • A non-immigrant visa from the U.S. Consulate
  • Form DS-156 Nonimmigrant Visa Application
  • Form DS-157 Supplemental Nonimmigrant Visa Application for men between 16 and 45

Applying for a TN-2 Visa

Anyone between 14 and 79 years old who applies for a TN-2 visa at the U.S. Consulate must do an interview. The fee for the interview is $160.00. During your interview, you must:

  • Show that you only intend to stay in the United States temporarily
  • Prove either your education qualifications or your relevant work experience

Professional qualifications might include:

  • Degrees
  • Diplomas
  • Certificates
  • Professional licenses
  • Professional organization memberships
  • Letters from employers to show work experience

Have a credentials expert evaluate any foreign qualifications and give a U.S. equivalent.

What to Consider Before Applying for a TN-2 Visa

TN Visa Stamps

The major difference between TN-1 and TN-2 visas is the visa stamp. Unlike Canadian citizens, Mexican citizens must first get a TN visa stamp at the U.S. Consulate or an Embassy. That requires the additional level of planning listed below, plus extra fees and extra wait time:

  • Plan for travel within Mexico to the U.S. Consulate or Embassy for your TN visa stamp interview.
  • The U.S. Consulate in Ciudad Juarez gets many applications, so your wait time might be longer there.
  • The Embassy in Mexico City typically has a lighter volume.
  • Tourism and season can affect how long wait times are for immigration or visa applications.
  • Be prepared for processing to take a few days to a few weeks, depending on time of year.
  • Once you have your TN visa stamp, you can head to a POE and send in your TN visa application.

Your TN visa stamp will have a length of stay on it. At the border, the officials might decide your length of stay is different from the period on your stamp.

You can travel abroad while you're on a TN visa. Make sure your passport has your TN visa stamp in it so you can re-enter the United States. These stamps can expire, so be sure yours will be current when you plan to return to the U.S.

Education Evaluations

U.S. Department of State immigration officials make sure your foreign education is similar to a U.S. education. That means your foreign degree must be similar to what you would get at a U.S. college or university.

To prevent immigration officials from deciding that your degree doesn't match with a U.S. degree equivalent, have your education evaluated first. A foreign credentials evaluation service will give you an evaluation that helps immigration officials understand your degree. Make sure to tell the service you're applying for a TN-2 visa.

What to Expect at the Border

When you head to the border to apply for your TN visa, make sure you have:

  • Your TN visa stamp
  • Your TN visa application and relevant materials
  • Familiarity with your documents and with your U.S. job

Be ready to tell border officials how long you will be working for your U.S. employer. Your employer might need you for longer than your TN stamp allows. Tell the border officials, and make sure you have documentation from your employer stating how long they will need you.

Changes Since 2004

In 2004, the Mexican TN visa process became easier. You no longer need a petition of approval or a labor condition application. Mexicans also don't have numerical limits for professions.

What Can Affect Your TN Visa Eligibility?

Many factors can affect how long your first TN visa lasts and whether you'll be able to renew it. The maximum length for a TN visa is three years. But not all TN visas last three years. If your job only lasts for one year, your visa will extend for only one year. When officials evaluate your application, they look at your job description to figure out how long you'll be in the country. If you're overseeing company mergers or making a website, you probably don't need three years to do it.

Your employer writers a letter that helps immigration officials figure out how long your visa should last. The more detailed the letter, the easier it is to get the full three years. This is the difference between your employer saying you'll be working on one job and saying you'll be working with lots of clients.

TN visas also hinge on what's known as "non-immigrant intent." That's the proof you want to go back to Canada or Mexico when your visa is up. Any steps that look like you're trying to become a permanent U.S. resident can get in the way of your TN visa. If you want to get a green card, you should find an immigration attorney to guide you through the process. Otherwise, you risk losing your "non-immigrant intent" and your TN visa.

How to Extend Your TN Visa

  • Your employer files an I-129 extension petition with the USCIS. If immigration officials think your extension remains in line with the TN visa requirements, they usually let you stay. They'll still figure out exactly how much time you need for the extension, the same way they did with your original application.
  • Your employer can only file the I-129 within six months of your visa expiring. Processing can take between two and seven months. As of December 2016, it costs $460. You can opt for Premium Processing, which takes 15 days, for an extra fee. The USCIS might ask for more documents after processing, which causes another delay.
  • You can also leave the United States and reapply at the border. This is a faster option, but you might get rejected at the border. Make sure your documentation is very strong if you go this route.
  • Mexican citizens might need to get new TN visa stamps. You'll have to wait for an interview at the U.S. Consulate. If you get your stamp, you can then head to a POE to reapply for your TN visa.

When You Have a New U.S. Job Offer

Your TN visa is only good for the job you got it for. If you find a new U.S. job, you need a new TN visa. Make sure your new job fills the TN visa requirements.

Have your new employer do your I-129 TN extension application. Or, head to a POE and do a new TN application.

Eligible Professions for TN Visas

Professions requiring a Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree:

  • Agriculturist
  • Agronomist
  • Animal Breeder
  • Animal Scientist
  • Apiculturist
  • Astronomer
  • Biochemist
  • Biologist
  • Chemist
  • Dairy Scientist
  • Economist
  • Entomologist
  • Epidemiologist
  • Forestry Specialist
  • Geneticist
  • Geologist
  • Geochemist
  • Geographer
  • Geophysicist
  • Horticulturist
  • Landscape Architect
  • Mathematician
  • Meteorologist
  • Nutritionist
  • Oceanographer
  • Pharmacologist
  • Physicist
  • Plant Breeder
  • Poultry Scientist
  • Range Manager/Range Conservationalist
  • Recreational Therapist
  • Research Assistant (at post-secondary school)
  • Social Worker
  • Soil Scientist
  • Statistician
  • Sylviculturist
  • Urban Planner
  • Vocational Counsellor
  • Zoologist
  • College Teacher
  • Seminary Teacher
  • University Teacher

Professions requiring a Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree or state/provincial/federal license:

  • Architect
  • Dietitian
  • Engineer
  • Forester
  • Land Surveyor
  • Occupational Therapist
  • Pharmacist
  • Physiotherapist/Physical Therapist

Professions requiring a state/provincial license or Licenciatura Degree:

  • Psychologist
  • Registered Nurse

Professions requiring a Baccalaureate, Licenciatura Degree, or Post-Secondary Diploma/Post-Secondary Certificate plus three years' experience:

  • Computer Systems Analyst
  • Graphic Designer
  • Hotel Manager (degree and/or experience must specialize in hotel or restaurant management)
  • Industrial Designer
  • Interior Designer
  • Medical Laboratory Technologist (Canada)
  • Medical Technologist (Mexico and the U.S.)
  • Technical Publications Writer

Other qualifying professions and their educational requirements:

  • Accountant: Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree; or a C.P.A., C.A., C.G.A., or C.M.A. certification
  • Dentist: D.D.S., D.M.D., Doctor en Odontologia or Doctor en Cirugia Dental; or state or provincial license
  • Disaster Relief Insurance Claims Adjuster: Either a Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree plus successful training in insurance claims and disaster relief or three years of experience working in claims adjustment plus successfully completing relevant job training
  • Lawyer (Including Notary in Quebec): LL.B., J.D., LL.L., B.C.L., or Licenciatura Degree (five years); or a member of a state or provincial bar
  • Librarian: M.L.S. or B.L.S. (with a Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree)
  • Management Consultant: Baccalaureate or Licenciatura Degree or five years of professional experience as a management consultant or in a related field
  • Scientific Technician or Technologist: Theoretical knowledge of agricultural sciences, astronomy, biology, chemistry, engineering, forestry, geology, geophysics, meteorology, or physics, plus the ability to solve practical problems or conduct basic or applied research in your area
  • Teaching or Research Physician: M.D. or Doctor en Medicina or state or provincial license
  • Veterinarian: D.V.M., D.M.V., or Doctor en Veterinaria, or state/provincial license

More Information About U.S. Visas 

The Complete Guide to U.S. Worker's Visas

Work Visas - How to Get a U.S. Work Visa

Seek Counsel

When starting your TN visa application, a good lawyer is essential. Post your legal need on UpCounsel for qualified immigration attorneys in your area who can help you prepare your TN visa application.