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NAFTA: The North American Free Trade Agreement
NAFTA is the North American Free Trade Agreement. It creates special economic and trade relationships for the United States, Canada, and Mexico. The nonimmigrant NAFTA Professional (TN) visa allows citizens of Canada and Mexico, as NAFTA professionals to work in the United States. Permanent residents, including Canadian permanent residents, are not able to apply to work as a NAFTA professional.
How Can Professionals from Mexico and Canada Work in the United States?
Professionals of Canada or Mexico may work in the U.S. under the following conditions:
- Applicant is a citizen of Canada or Mexico;
- Profession is on the NAFTA list;
- Position in the U.S. requires a NAFTA professional;
- Mexican or Canadian applicant is to work in a prearranged full-time or part-time job, for a U.S. employer (see documentation required). Self employment is not permitted;
- Professional Canadian or Mexican citizen has the qualifications of the profession.
The requirements for applying for citizens of Canada and Mexico are different.
Requirements for Canadian Citizens
Canadian citizens usually do not need a visa as a NAFTA Professional, although a visa can be issued to qualified TN visa applicants upon request. However, a Canadian residing in another country with a non-Canadian spouse and children would need a visa to enable the spouse and children to be able to apply for a visa to accompany or join the NAFTA Professional, as a TD visa holder. A Canadian citizen without a TN visa can apply at a U.S. port of entry with all of the following:
- Request for admission under TN status to Department of Homeland Security, Customs and Border Protection, U.S. immigration officer;
- Employment Letter to evidence professional employment;
- Proof of professional qualifications, such as transcripts of grades, licenses, certificates, degrees, and/or records of previous employment;
- Proof of ability to meet applicable license requirements;
- Proof of Canadian citizenship- Canadian citizens may present a passport, as visas are not required, or they may provide secondary evidence, such as a birth certificate. However, Canadian citizens traveling to the United States from outside the Western Hemisphere are required to present a valid passport at the port-of-entry;
- Fee at U.S. $50.
Requirements for Mexican Citizens
As of January 1, 2004, the procedures were simplified for Mexicans by removing the requirement for petition approval and for filing of a labor condition application. Mexicans are no longer subject to numerical limitation for these professionals. Mexican citizens still require a visa to request admission to the United States.
Mexican Citizens – Applying for a TN Visa – Required Documentation
Mexican citizens may apply at consular sections around the world for a NAFTA professional (TN) visa. As part of the visa application process, an interview at the embassy consular section is required for most visa applicants. Interviews are generally by appointment only. As part of the visa interview, an ink-free, digital fingerprint scan can generally be expected. The waiting time for an interview appointment for most applicants is a few weeks or less, but for some embassy consular sections it can be considerably longer. Visa wait times for interview appointments and visa processing time information for each U.S. Embassy or Consulate worldwide is now available on the U.S. Department of State website at Visa Wait Times, and on most embassy websites.
Each Mexican applicant for a TN visa must submit these forms and documentation, and submit fees as explained below:
- An application, Nonimmigrant Visa Application, Form DS-156, completed and signed. The DS-156 must be the March 2006 date, electronic “e-form application.”
- Supplemental Nonimmigrant Visa Application, Form DS-157 provides additional information about your travel plans. Submission of this completed form is required for all male applicants between 16-45 years of age. It is also required for all applicants from state sponsors of terrorism age 16 and over, irrespective of gender, without exception. Nationals of the following countries designated as state sponsors of terrorism, including North Korea, Cuba, Syria, Sudan, and Iran must submit the supplemental form. A consular officer may require any nonimmigrant visa applicant to complete this form.
- A passport valid for travel to the United States and with a validity date at least six months beyond the applicant’s intended period of stay in the United States (unless country-specific agreements provide exemptions).
- One (1) 2×2 photograph. A photograph is not required if you are applying in Mexico.
- Letter of employment in the United States .
Additionally, as nonimmigrants, applicants must demonstrate that:
- That their stay is a temporary period that has a reasonable, definite end that does not equate to permanent residence.
The employer in the U.S. must provide to the applicant a Letter of Employment in the United States. The letter must indicate that the position in question in the U.S. requires the employment of a person in a professional capacity, consistent with the NAFTA Chapter 16, Annex 1603, Appendix 1603.d.1.
The applicant must present evidence of professional employment to satisfy the Consular Officer of his plans to be employed in prearranged business activities for a U.S. employer(s) or entity(ies) at a professional level. Part-time employment is permitted. Self-employment is not permitted. An employment letter or contract providing a detailed description of the business activities must be provided from the U.S. or foreign employer, and should contain the following information:
- Activity in which the applicant shall be engaged;
- Purpose of entry;
- Anticipated length of stay;
- Educational qualifications or appropriate credentials demonstrating professional status;
- Evidence of compliance with DHS regulations, and/or state laws; and
- Arrangements for pay.
- Although not required, proof of licensure to practice a given profession in the United States may be offered along with a job offer letter, or other documentation in support of a TN visa application.
What are the Required Fees?
- Nonimmigrant visa application processing fee – Each applicant for a visitor visa must pay a nonrefundable US $100 nonimmigrant visa application-processing fee.
- Visa issuance fee – Additionally, if the visa is issued, there will be an additional visa issuance reciprocity fee, if applicable. The Visa Reciprocity Tables indicate if you must pay a visa issuance reciprocity fee and what the fee amount is. If there is a fee for issuance for the visa, it is equal to the fee charged to United States citizens by the applicant’s country of nationality.
Additional Documentation or Requirements
Additionally, applicants must demonstrate that they are properly classifiable as NAFTA Professional for TN visa, under U.S. law by:
- Meeting the Education Requirement- The applicant’s employer must submit proof that the applicant meets the minimum education requirements or has the alternative credentials set forth in NAFTA agreement, chapter 16 appendix 1603.d.1. Evidence of professional qualifications may be in the form of degrees, certificates, diplomas, professional licenses, or membership in a professional organization. Degrees, diplomas, or certificates received from an educational institution outside the United States, Canada, or Mexico must be accompanied by an evaluation by a reliable credentials evaluation service specializing in evaluating foreign documentation.
- Meeting the Work Experience Requirement – Document proving to the applicant’s experience should be in the form of letters from former employers. If the applicant was self-employed, business records should be submitted proving that self-employment.
Licensure is a Post-Entry Requirement.
Requirements for NAFTA professional do not include licensure. Licensure to practice a given profession in the United States is a post-entry requirement subject to enforcement by the appropriate state or other sub-federal authority.
Spouses and Children of TN Visa Holders
Spouses and children (unmarried children under the age of 21) who are accompanying or following to join NAFTA Professionals (TN visa holders) may receive a derivative TD visa. Applicants must demonstrate a bona fide spousal or parent-child relationship to the principal TN visa holder. Dependents do not have to be citizens of Mexico or Canada. Spouses and children cannot work while in the U.S. They are permitted to study.
Canadian citizen spouses and children do not need visas, but they must have the following documents at the port of entry:
- Proof of Canadian citizenship;
- Proof of relationship to the principal applicant, such as marriage certificate and birth certificate; and
- Photocopies of entry documents of the principal applicant.
Mexican citizen spouses and children must apply for TD nonimmigrant visas at a U.S. embassy or consulate.
If the spouse and children are not Canadian citizens, they must get a TD nonimmigrant visa from a U.S. embassy or consulate. They must contact the U.S. embassy or consulate that serves their area for information on how to make visa applications.
Spouses or children following to join must show a valid I-94, thereby providing proof that the principal TN visa holder is maintaining his/her TN visa status.
How Long Can I Stay?
The maximum period of admission into the U.S is one year. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) grants extensions of stay in one year increments. There is no limit on the number of years a TN visa holder can remain in the United States. However, the TN visa status is not a visa leading to permanent residence.
Extension of Stay
For Canadian or Mexican citizens admitted as a NAFTA Professional may seek an extension of stay, which may be granted up to one year, by:
- If the applicant is in the U.S., employer may file a Petition for Non-immigrant Worker with the US Citizenship and Immigration Services’ (USCIS) Nebraska Service Center.; or
- The applicant may apply at a port of entry using the same application and documentation procedures above as required for his initial entry.
About the NAFTA Professional Job Series List
NAFTA’s website has a complete list of professions with minimum education requirements and alternative credentials. Each profession requires a baccalaureate degree as an entry-level requirement; however, there are some exceptions. If a baccalaureate is required, experience cannot be substituted for that degree. In some professions, alternative criteria to a bachelor’s degree are listed. For some professions, experience is required in addition to the degree.
- No assurances regarding the issuance of visas can be given in advance. Therefore final travel plans or the purchase of nonrefundable tickets should not be made until a visa has been issued.
- Unless previously canceled, a visa is valid until its expiration date. Therefore, if the traveler has a valid U.S. visitor visa in an expired passport, do not remove the visa page from the expired passport. You may use it along with a new valid passport for travel and admission to the United States.
Visa Ineligibility/ Waiver
The Nonimmigrant Visa Application, Form DS-156, lists classes of persons who are ineligible under U.S. law to receive visas. In some instances an applicant who is ineligible, but who is otherwise properly classifiable as a visitor, may apply for a waiver of ineligibility and be issued a visa if the waiver is approved.
If the consular officer should find it necessary to deny the issuance of a TN visa, the applicant may apply again if there is new evidence to overcome the basis for the refusal.
Entering the U.S. – Port of Entry
Applicants should be aware that a visa does not guarantee entry into the United States. The visa allows a foreign citizen to travel to a port-of-entry in the United States, such as an international airport, a seaport or a land border crossing, and request permission to enter the U.S. The Department of Homeland Security, Customs and Border Protection, U.S. immigration inspector will permit or deny admission to the United States, and determine your length of stay in the U.S., on any particular visit. Form I-94, Record of Arrival-Departure, which notes the length of stay permitted, is validated by the immigration official. Form I-94, which documents your authorized stay in the U.S., is very important to keep in your passport. Additionally, as a Mexican citizen seeking entry as a NAFTA professional, you must present evidence of professional employment to satisfy the Immigration Officer of your plans to be employed in prearranged business activities for a U.S. employer(s) or entity(ies) at a professional level.
Staying Beyond Your Authorized Stay in the U.S. and Being Out of Status
- You should carefully consider the dates of your authorized stay and make sure you are following the procedures under U.S. immigration laws. It is important that you depart the U.S. on or before the last day you are authorized to be in the U.S. on any given trip, based on the specified end date on your Arrival-Departure Record, Form I-94. Failure to depart the U.S. will cause you to be out-of-status.
- Staying beyond the period authorized by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and being out-of-status in the United States is a violation of U.S. immigration laws, and may cause you to be ineligible for a visa in the future for return travels to the U.S.
- Staying unlawfully in the United States beyond the date Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials have authorized, even by one day, results in your visa being automatically voided, in accordance with INA 222(g). Under this provision of immigration law, if you overstay on your nonimmigrant authorized stay in the U.S. your visa will be automatically voided. In this situation, you are required to reapply for a new nonimmigrant visa, generally in your country of nationality.
- For nonimmigrants in the U.S. who have an Arrival-Departure Record, Form I-94, with the CBP admitting officer endorsement of Duration of Status or D/S, but who are no longer performing the same function in the U.S. that they were originally admitted to perform, a problem arises. DHS or an immigration judge makes a finding of status violation, resulting in the termination of the period of authorized stay.
Contact an Immigration Lawyer in Pittsburgh or Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, New York
To speak to an immigration attorney about your immigration goals, including obtaining a work visa in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Atlanta, Ohio, West Virginia or surrounding areas, we welcome you to contact us online or call 412-291-4400 | 215-880-4977 | 347-839-1700 . Free consultations are available. We represent clients throughout the United States, including Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Western Pennsylvania, Eastern Ohio, Allegheny County, Philadelphia County, New York, New Jersey, Atlanta, and worldwide in Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Asia, China, Australia, Africa, the Middle East, Central America, and South America.