TN Visa Requirements: Your Questions Answered

June 21, 2017 Chelsea Iversen

Growing competition for the H-1B visa over the past couple of years has made employers hungry for alternatives to recruiting a global workforce. Enter the TN visa. Created as a part of the North American Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the TN (Treaty NAFTA) visa allows U.S.-based companies to hire certain candidates from Canada and Mexico.

While there are a number of TN visa requirements that may not make this option the best fit for all, in the face of growing H-1B competition, this visa is looking more and more appealing to U.S. companies. Here are some reasons why:

  • No cap
    • There is no limit to the number of candidates from Mexico and Canada who can receive the TN visa. This, in comparison with the H-1B and its strict limits on the number of accepted visas each year, might be appealing to organizations affected by the H-1B cap. This also means that candidates can apply at any time of year, which gives organizations much more flexibility than with other visa application deadlines.
  • Unlimited extensions
    • There is also no limit to the number of extensions, which means, as long as the employee meets TN visa requirements for every three-year extension, that person should be able to stay in the U.S. under your employment. This extension can happen at a U.S. port of entry, so though the TN visa is not “dual intent,” meaning visa holders can’t apply for their green card at the same time as possessing the TN visa, there is still a possibility for an indefinite period. This is a significant advantage over H-1B visas, which limits employees to six years of work in the U.S.
  • Easy application process
    • Candidates can apply for this visa at the U.S. port of entry without submitting visa petitions to USCIS. The result? They are often processed much faster than, say H-1B visas. The application can be submitted online, but it can also be submitted via an in-person interview at the port of entry to the U.S. Typically, if a candidate has all the paperwork he or she needs, approval can happen right then and there.
  • Lower costs
    • The application filing fee is $50 – $100, depending on the country of origin. This number is significantly lower than the fees for many other work visas, making the TN an affordable option. Also, there are no prevailing wage requirements. Instead, salaries for employees are based on the minimums stipulated by federal and state laws as well as negotiations.

TN Visa Requirements

While there are a few TN visa requirements, the most important is that the candidate is a citizen of either Canada or Mexico. Following that, there are 63 professions that are eligible, including accountants, computer systems analyst, psychologist, pharmacologist, soil scientist, engineer, graphic designer, industrial designer and biochemist, among a number of others. The list includes the required degree level for each position. Most professions require a bachelor’s degree as an entry-level requirement.

Finding and securing the right talent for this option primarily requires recruiting in the right geographies, namely Mexico and Canada. It also calls for careful targeting, with crystal clarity that this work visa is not dual intent, which means that candidates interested in gaining green card status in the U.S. might not be the best fit for this category.

How to file your application

To file a TN visa application that’s likely to be considered for acceptance, there are a few compliance-related measures organizations and individuals should be prepared to include.

First, you should look internally to make clear that there’s actually an open position for a NAFTA professional. The applicant should be prepared to show documents proving Canadian or Mexican citizenship, a list of duties that the candidate will be performing in accordance with the 63 TN visa-stipulated professions, and proof that he or she is qualified to carry out those duties – all this, among other necessary documentation.

A pro tip: hiring professionals should take a look at the at the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook (OOH) and the Department of Labor job duties descriptions, which are used by USCIS and Customs Border Protection to determine whether a candidate qualifies for one of the visa-designated professions. Because the OOH is relatively generic compared to real-world internal job titles, you’ll want to watch out for differences that might result in an application being denied. In general, beware of trying to fit a round peg into a square hole; authorities determining TN visas can be pretty by-the-book.

For a guide to TN visa applications and stipulations, including an application checklist, read our 5-Step TN Visa Roadmap.

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