An I-797 Approval Notice is Not Always Required for Entry to U.S. under TN Visa Status

Question: I’m a Canadian citizen with approved TN visa status, which I had obtained at the border. I've just been delayed at Pearson Airport because the U.S. customs official insisted that I have an I-797 form as proof of my TN visa. This is the first I've heard of this. Is this correct?

Reply: This is a frequent mistake made by USCBP border officers who are not familiar with TN visa status. There are three types of TN visa approval documents, which may be used for re-entering the U.S. under TN visa status:

  • A TN visa stamp affixed to an individual’s passport, which is obtained by filing a DS-160 application at a U.S. consulate. (Citizens of Mexico must first obtain a visa stamp, and then an I-94 card is issued at the border.)
  • An I-797 approval notice, which is only obtained by filing an I-129 petition by mail with USCIS. An I-797 approval notice for TN status will have an I-94 "card" located at the bottom. (Mexican or Canadian citizens may file an I-129 petition). 
  • An I-94 card, which is obtained at the U.S. border after filing an application for initial TN status. (Only Canadian citizens may apply for TN status at the border.)

An I-797 approval notice is not a necessity for re-entry to the U.S. under TN visa status. For Canadian citizens, the main document required for re-entry is an I-94 card. See 8 CFR s. 214.6 (g) (1).  A citizen of Canada may enter the U.S. under TN visa status by presenting either an I-797 approval notice (with the I-94 at the bottom), or an I-94 card. Either document will suffice.