What is a TN visa and how to get one?

TN work visa stamp in a passport
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In 2018 I arrived in the United States under a TN work visa. A TN visa is an excellent way for Latinas from Mexico to work temporarily in the United States as non-immigrants. Read on to learn more about what is a TN visa and how to get one!

What is a TN visa and how to get one

Lee en español ¿Qué es una Visa TN y cómo obtener una?

Since I arrived in the United States in 2018, I’ve had 4 TN visas sponsored by different employers. In my first year living in Michigan, I increased my salary from $12,000 to $82,000 working as a product and design engineer in the automotive industry.

Having a TN visa has allowed me to raise my income, grow my career by gaining professional experience in a foreign country, improve my English skills, pay the debt I had back home and support my family.

If you are a Latina from Mexico interested in learning more about TN visas, this post is for you!

What is a TN Visa?

A TN visa is a nonimmigrant work visa that allows citizens from Canada and Mexico to work in the United States in prearranged business activities at a professional level as long as their occupation falls within the list of approved NAFTA professions.

TN visas are part of the arrangement under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), now known as the U.S.-Mexico-Canada (USMCA) agreement, to strengthen economic and trade relationships between these three countries.

These are some considerations to keep in mind about TN visas:

  • They are valid for up to three years, but you can renew them indefinitely.
  • You can only work for the employer named on your TN visa.
  • You can have a different job title and still apply for a TN visa. Your position doesn’t have to be an exact match to the NAFTA list.
  • Bringing dependents is possible with a TD nonimmigrant visa.
  • They are nonimmigrant visas, which means your intention is not to move permanently to the U.S.

Although TN visas are available to both Canadian and Mexican citizens, in this post, we’ll focus solely on the requirements for Mexican citizens.

TN Visa requirements for Mexican citizens

You have decided you want to apply for a TN visa but don’t know if you are eligible. Before anything, make sure that you fulfill the following requirements:

  • You are a Mexican citizen (you’ll need your passport).
  • Your job falls under the list of approved NAFTA professions.
  • You have made the arrangements for a full-time or part-time job in the U.S.
  • You have proof of the qualifications, experience, and/or education required for the position. You can check the requirements of each profession in the NAFTA list.

How to apply for a TN visa?

Although the order may change based on each U.S. Embassy or Consulate, these are the steps that a Mexican citizen must follow to apply for a TN visa:

1. Get a job offer and a TN employment letter

The first and probably the longest step is finding a TN visa sponsor and landing a job, but once you have successfully done it, you’ll need an employment letter for your TN visa application. Among other things, the letter should include your information; your educational credentials and experience, the details of the company that is hiring you, the job title, the responsibilities you will have, your expected salary, and the planned length of stay.

During the three times that I applied for a TN visa, my employer’s Human Resources, with the advice of an immigration lawyer, wrote my TN letter and hand signed it.

2. Complete form DS-160

To apply for a temporary U.S. visa, you need to submit the form DS-160 to the Department of State website. Once you submit this form you’ll have to print your confirmation page -which you’ll have to take with you during your interview-, and pay the non-refundable visa application fee.

3. Schedule and attend your TN visa interview

The interview is one of the most important steps in your TN visa application process. The consular officer will determine through a series of questions about yourself, past entries into the United States, your job, your employer, and your experience, if you and your U.S. employment meet the requirements for the work visa. At the end of this interview, you’ll know if the TN visa has been denied, approved, or if additional documentation is required.

In my experience, the interview is usually split into two days. The first day is for fingerprint scanning and photography shooting. The second day is for the interview with the consular officer. These are some recommendations for both days:

  • Dress professionally and comfortably, wear natural make-up and avoid excessive jewelry.
  • Be friendly and respectful with everyone you interact.
  • Listen carefully to the consular officer’s questions, think about your answers before talking and provide direct, honest answers. Keep it short and sweet.
  • If you’re nervous or don’t feel comfortable with the language, slow your pace while speaking and articulate your words better.

Lastly, remember to bring all the necessary documents to your interview such as, but not limited to: your passport, the DS-160 confirmation page, the application fee payment receipt, the TN employment letter from the company in the U.S. and proof of your credentials -in my case and the case of others this has been the “cédula professional”-. Additional documentation may be requested at the discretion of the consular officer. Be prepared.

4. Wait for your TN visa

In most cases, you’ll know by the end of your interview if your TN visa has been approved or denied. Once the visa is approved, you’ll be informed how your passport with the TN visa will be returned to you. During the years that I applied for my visa, it took around 7-12 days to arrive. However, check the current processing times for accuracy.

What to expect after your TN visa?

You have your TN visa, and now you can legally work in the United States. Congratulations! Now, probably you’re wondering what happens next, so I’ve included some of the first things you should do when arriving in the U.S. under a TN visa.

1. Review your I-94

An I-94 is an arrival/departure record issued to nonimmigrant when entering the United States by air or sea. This record indicates how long you’re allowed to stay in the U.S. and proves that you’ve arrived legally.

During all the years I held a TN visa, I’d arrive in the United States by air. Once at the port of entry, I had to go through immigration. In this process, the Customs Border Protection (CBP) officer would examine my passport, TN visa, and TN employment letter and would ask me a few questions about my job and the reason for my trip, among others. At the end of this short interview, the officer would stamp my passport and issue an “Admit until” date on the electronic Form I-94.

I highly recommend reviewing your travel history frequently and making sure your most recent I-94 is correct. If something doesn’t seem accurate, you may want to contact an immigration lawyer.

2. Fill out Form I-9

Form I-9 is a document that employers must complete verifying the identity and employment authorization of new employees, including TN visa holders. As a new employee, you must complete and sign Section 1 of the Form no later than the first day of employment and present documents and evidence of your identity and employment authorization. Ask Human Resources for this information.

3. Obtain a Social Security Number (SSN)

A Social Security Number is a unique numerical identifier issued by the Social Security Administration to track your yearly earnings, and the number of years you’ve worked, and determine future financial benefits you may receive from the government. 

As you’ll need it to work, applying for your SSN during your first days of arrival is highly important. Your employer will use this number to provide to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) the details of your salary and the withholding contributions to Social Security and Medicare, and to the state if income tax is applicable.

Additionally, you may need it to open a U.S. bank account, apply for certain loans, get a driver’s license, and for tax return purposes, among others.

TN visa extension or renewal

There are two ways to extend your TN visa. The first is for your employer to file Form I-129 while you remain in the U.S. (Review the requirements and application periods). The second is for you to depart to Mexico and request a new TN visa in the same manner as you did in the first place. I chose the second option during all my renewals, but make sure to review with your employer and an immigration attorney before making a decision.

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Fernanda is an immigrant from Mexico and a Latina Money and Career educator.

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