In 1994, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) became effective. As a result, a new category of visa was created for professionals who are citizens of Mexico or Canada. Pursuant to this category for "Professionals Under the North American Free Trade Agreement", a citizen of one NAFTA nation may work in a professional occupation in the United States provided that:
- The profession is on the NAFTA list of qualifying professions;
- The foreign professional possesses the specific criteria for that profession;
- The foreign professional is going to work for a U.S. employer.
There is no limit to the number of Canadians who may qualify for TN visas. However, there are annual limits which apply to the number of Mexican citizens who can qualify for TN visas in any given year
To apply for a TN visa at the port of entry, Canadians must provide the following:
- A request for Trade NAFTA (TN) status;
- Proof of Canadian citizenship;
- A copy of the applicant's college degrees and employment records, sufficient to establish qualification for the prospective U.S. employment;
- A letter from the prospective U.S. employer offering the applicant a job in the United States, which is included in the "professional job series" under NAFTA;
- Immigration form I-129 (if filing within the United States);
- The required filing fee.
Canadian business people do not require an Arrival-Departure record (Form I-94), but may choose to request one to facilitate subsequent entry into the United States.
To apply for a TN visa, Mexican citizens must meet the following requirements:
- The prospective employer must file a labor condition application;
- The prospective employer must next file an I-129 "Petition For Non-Immigrant Workers" with the USCIS, along with the associated filing fee.
- After the petition is approved, the alien professional must apply for a non-immigrant visa at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate in Mexico
A qualifying alien may be admitted to the United States under a TN visa for the period of time required by the U.S. employer, up to a maximum initial period of three years. TN visas may subsequently be extended in increments of up to three years. The only limitation on the duration of the foreign professional's total stay under a TN visa is that the stay must be "temporary" – there is no maximum number of years during which renewals are permitted.
It is important to remember that when an extension of stay is needed, a form I-539 may be filed with the USCIS not more than sixty (60) days before the expiration of stay.
The qualifying foreign professional's spouse and unmarried minor children will be able to obtain derivative status (TD) visas, but will not qualify for employment in the United States.