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A special visa for Canadian and Mexican professionals

The hotel manager of a luxury resort in Napa Valley. Foresters working on fire prevention in the Mendocino County woodlands. A graphic designer working remotely for Google.

What do they have in common? A special visa for Canadian and Mexican professionals who have offers of work in the United States. It is called the “TN” visa and it allows Canadians or Mexican citizens to come and work here, provided they have the required training and education. It is one of the very few visa options for Mexican citizens who want to live and work in the U.S. legally.

The TN visa

The TN visa was created by the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1994, to allow for the exchange of qualified professionals from Canada, Mexico, and the United States. Canadian citizens may apply for the TN visas at the U.S. Embassy and Consulates.

An applicant needs to prove that they have a college education or the equivalent amount of education and experience. There must also be an employer/sponsor who is willing to employ them. Mexican or Canadian applicants must work in a prearranged full-time or part-time job for a U.S. employer. Self-employment is not permitted.

The sponsor must provide a letter of employment or a contract which details the professional work that the applicant is being offered in the United States. The position must be of a “professional” status as defined by NAFTA and the immigration regulations. The State Department and the Embassies are very strict on what is considered a “professional” degree and so it is important that the job fit their defined list of “professional jobs.”

Persons whose job offer is not considered “professional” will be denied the visa.

How do you apply?

There is a list of jobs that are covered by the visa category. This list includes accountants, architects and engineers, computer systems analyst and other computer professionals, doctors, dentists and other medical professions; economists, lawyers and teachers. But it also includes graphic designers, foresters, and hotel managers.

The government requires evidence that the applicant has the required educational qualifications and job experience. This includes a copy of the applicant’s college degree and letters from previous employers showing the applicant’s experience in the professional field. Once the documentation is ready, the person applying needs to schedule an appointment with the U.S. Consulate in their home country or, in the case of Canadians, they can apply at the border.

During the interview, the applicant needs to be prepared to describe his/her qualifications for the job, professional experience, and the nature of the work offered. The officer considering the case will then make a decision after the initial interview.

What if you’re not a Canadian or Mexican?

Professionals from other countries typically need to apply for H-1B visas. The H-1B application process is much more cumbersome and difficult. And, because there is annual limit on H-1B visas and 3 times that number apply every year, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service has to hold a lottery to pick which applications it will consider. The lottery is held in April; presently there are no H1B visas available until Oct.1, 2022.

There is no such limit on TN visas. So, the TN visa is a way for Mexicans and Canadians to avoid this backlog and come to the U.S. relatively easily, provided they have a job offer and the required qualifications.

A model for a limited immigration reform.

Unfortunately, to be eligible for a TN visa, you cannot be here in this country illegally. Anyone with periods of unlawful presence in the U.S. will not be considered. That means, DACA recipients – even those with a degree and otherwise eligible qualifications – are not eligible for the TN visa.

There’s no sign of any movement in Congress on immigration reform and there is large opposition to anything that resembles blanket amnesty for the undocumented. One possible compromise that should be considered: provide a pathway to permanent residence for those undocumented who can prove they have education or skills and a valid job offer. Extend the TN visa to non-professionals and the undocumented; our society and our economy would be better off for it.

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