STORY INLINE POST
In the 1990s, the US and Mexico entered into the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), building aspecial economic and trade relationship between the countries. The agreement is more commonly known for eliminating the tariffs on products exchanged between the US and Mexico, but NAFTA does more than people realize. NAFTA also created an expedited work authorization for Mexican citizens to engage in business activities at a professional level within the US. The employment authorization is referred to as the Trade NAFTA visa (TN visa), a visa that offers a simplified employment process for Mexicans to work for US employers within the US.
To qualify for the TN visa, one must be a citizen of Mexico, have a valid job offer from a US company for a defined profession, and the applicant must have the qualifications to practice in the profession. The job offer can be for either part-time or full-time employment, but it may not be used for self-employment.
The TN visa is not available for every professional job category; it is available for roughly 63 professional job categories and an applicant must prove they meet the necessary educational, licensing or work experience requirements for the relevant profession. To provide examples of the job categories, the TN visa includes Engineers, Economists, Mathematicians, Social Workers, Lawyers and Pharmacists, to name a few. Most of the professional positions will require the applicant to have a related bachelor’s or master’s degree. Some of the professional categories will permit a state license in lieu of a bachelor’s or master’s degree, such as a Dietician, Psychologist, Occupational Therapist, Nurse or Physiotherapist. A smaller number of job categories will accept a post-secondary diploma plus a certain number of years of work experience in the job category, such as a Technical Publications Writer, Management Consultant, Scientific Technician or Technologist or Medical Laboratory Technologist or Medical Technologist. Identifying the proper job category and ensuring an applicant’s academic or work experience meets the qualifications is the first and most important step to determining whether the TN visa is the most suitable option for a candidate.
The TN visa may be granted for up to three years and renewed indefinitely. The visa is classified as a non-immigrant visa, and it is not supposed to be used for permanent residency. Renewals can be denied if an immigration officer determines the visa is being abused.
Family members, or dependents, of TN holders may apply for the TD status, allowing them to reside in the US and for children to attend school. Dependents are spouses of TN holders or children under the age of 21 years old. The TD dependent status does not come with employment authorization so if a spouse of a TN holder wants to work within the US, they must seek their own independent employment-based visa.
A Mexican citizen may apply for the TN visa at a US Embassy or Consulate or if within the US through a “change of status” process through the US Citizenship and Immigration Services, an agency responsible for administering immigration. The processing times vary depending on how and where you request the visa. To give you an example, the US Embassy in Mexico City is scheduling appointments to request the TN visa within one month.
In recent years, the TN visa has become a more popular option among Mexican citizens studying their bachelor’s or master’s degree and securing employment after graduation with a US employer. The TN visa has become an alternative option to another popular professional visa referred to the H-1B. The H-1B visa was designed for foreign national professionals; however, this visa is subjected to a numerical cap and can only be requested one time a year for an employment start date no earlier than Oct. 1 for the corresponding year. The US government will only issue 85,000 H-1B visas per fiscal year and will conduct a lottery if there are more than 85,000 registrations seeking this visa. In this year’s H-1B lottery there were nearly 800,000 registrations for the 85,000 H-1B visas, to put this unbalanced scenario into perspective. As one can imagine, most foreign nationals who registered for the lottery were not selected and had no other alternative options available for securing an employment-based visa. Most Mexican professionals, however, who were not selected in the H-1B lottery had the luxury of considering the TN visa, which comes with the added benefit that it can be requested at any time of year, unlike the H-1B visa. The TN visa became the “saving grace” for many Mexican professionals after the 2023 H-1B lottery and we foresee this will continue to be the case for the coming years.
The US and Mexico will continue to be strong trading partners and allies and with the proximity between the two countries, there will continue to be a flow of labor between the two markets. The TN visa is a great option to consider for Mexican professionals looking to expand their careers in the US.
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