TN Visa vs. TN status

Individuals new to U.S. immigration law and unfamiliar with the NAFTA provisions for Canadian and Mexican citizens often confuse a TN visa stamp with TN nonimmigrant status. There is a significant difference between a TN visa stamp and TN non-immigrant status. This distinction can be explained by looking at the U.S. immigration process. Generally, admission to the U.S. involves a double-check system consisting of an application for a non-immigrant visa, and then inspection at a U.S. port-of-entry.

Visa Application at U.S. Consulate

A foreign citizen who wishes to temporarily visit the U.S. generally must apply for a non-immigrant visa stamp at a U.S. consulate abroad. A visa is a document affixed or stamped to a page in an individual’s passport. A visa serves as a “ticket” that permits a foreign citizen to apply for admission at a U.S. port of entry or board an airplane to the U.S. Several non-immigrant worker categories require an additional step before a visa stamp will be issued. For example, the temporary worker H-1B visa category requires the submission and approval of an I-129 petition with USCIS before an H-1B visa may be issued by the consulate.

Application for Admission to the U.S.

After a foreign citizen obtains a non-immigrant visa stamp, he or she may travel to the U.S. and apply for admission. Upon arrival at a port of the United States a foreign citizen is examined by immigration officers to determine the individual’s eligibility for admission into the U.S. If the foreign citizen meets the eligibility requirements for a non-immigrant visa category and is not found inadmissible, he or she may be admitted to the U.S. under lawful non-immigrant status. The inspector will issue an I-94 card that provides the date and place of admission, the nonimmigrant classification, and the authorized period of stay. The I-94 serves as evidence of lawful non-immigrant status.

Canadian Citizens Bypass TN Visa Application Process

A Canadian citizen generally does not need a visa stamp in order to apply for admission to the U.S. Under the streamlined provisions of NAFTA, a Canadian citizen does not need to obtain a TN visa stamp or file a petition with USCIS before applying for admission to the U.S. as a TN professional worker.

A Canadian citizen may apply for admission to the U.S. and for work authorization under NAFTA TN status directly at the U.S. border or at an international airport. The application process is complete in one step. If the application is approved, the individual receives an I-94 card that serves as evidence of lawful TN non-immigrant status.  

Mexican Citizens Must File Application for TN Visa

Citizens of Mexico must first file an application for a TN visa stamp at a U.S. consulate before they can apply for admission to the U.S. under TN status. Mexican citizens previously had to file an I-129 petition with USCIS before they could obtain a TN visa stamp. However, this extra step was eliminated in 2004.

Revised Oct. 28, 2013.