TN (Treaty NAFTA) status is a special non-immigrant status in the United States unique to citizens of Canada and citizens of Mexico. Beginning in 1988, individuals practising one of the professions identified in the Canada - United States Free Trade Agreement are able to obtain TN status for legal work in the United States and Canada, creating freedom of labor movement. TN status is recognized in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) which began in 1994. It allows U.S., Canadian and Mexican citizens the opportunity to work in each other's countries in certain professional occupations. It bears a similarity, in some ways, to the H-1B visa, but also has many unique features. Within the TN set of occupations, an American, Canadian or Mexican can work for up to three years[1] at a time. However, the TN status may be renewed indefinitely in three-year increments, although it is not a 'permanent' visa and if US immigration officials suspect it is being used as a de facto green card, they may elect to deny further renewals. The set of occupations permitted to petition for TN status is also quite a bit more limited than for the H-1B visa.[2]

Spouse and dependent children of a TN professional can be admitted into the United States in the TD status.

Canadian citizens in the United States

For Canadians, TN status does not involve a visa. Canadian professionals are admitted into the USA in the TN-1 status at the border. Applying for this status is a fairly streamlined procedure. The Canadian must first obtain proof of a job offer, in the form of an employment letter detailing employment for not more than three years, and documentation (often in the form of a university degree and/or evidence of former employment) in the occupation area. This paperwork is then brought to the border (most commonly it is done upon entry to the USA from Canada, but entry in TN status is permitted at any port of entry), along with proof of Canadian citizenship and the $50 fee (plus an additional $6 at a land or sea crossing; this is included in airline tickets when arriving by air). The US immigration officer will then adjudicate the application on the spot and grant or deny TN status. If the decision is to grant TN status, the Canadian immediately enters the US and begins TN employment. If the decision is to deny, the immigration officer will often detail the shortcomings in the application; if these are relatively straightforward to correct, the Canadian will often correct the problem in a day or so and then return to the border to reapply.

Certain TN status categories are known to be more difficult than others. For example, 'Management Consultant' applicants will often be scrutinized closely to determine if they will really be serving as consultants, or are in practice simply 'managers'. (The latter is generally not allowed under TN status.) Similarly, 'Computer Systems Analysts' will often have their applications carefully examined to ensure that their qualifications and job duties truly rise to the level of Computer Systems Analyst, and that they are not in practice simply serving as computer programmers.

Once TN status is granted, it is good for three years[citation needed], but only for the specific employer for which it was originally requested. Changing employers will require the Canadian to return to the border and start from scratch with a new application. If employment with a single employer is desired for more than three years, it may be renewed indefinitely. Renewal is accomplished either by a mail-in renewal within the United States, or by returning to the border and, in effect, presenting a new application. Renewal is possible, in theory, indefinitely, but the TN status is not a substitute for permanent residency (a green card), and the border official has the discretion to refuse further renewals if she feels the ability for indefinite renewal is being abused. How this happens in practice depends largely on the mood of the individual border official. Some Canadians have successfully renewed TN status for a decade or more; others have found that after 3–4 years a border official denies further renewals.

Canadian citizenship for TN status purposes may be by descent or naturalization. Those with qualifications from sources outside Canada or the U.S. must prove equivalency to the U.S. requirements. There is no appeal recourse if one is refused TN status.

Income tax requirements

Canadian TN status workers are responsible for US Medicare, State, Federal and Social Security taxes work in the US. US TN status workers in Canada are also subject to corresponding income tax liabilities and end-of-year filing of returns in Canada. In general, there will be income tax liabilities in accordance to where the employee works regardless of where legal or physical residence is maintained during employment. This is much like US citizens who live in one state but work in another who are then subject to state income and other taxes in the state in which they work. If their legal residence is still in their home country, workers may also be required to file a return in their home country. Based on income tax treaties, credit is normally available in the home country for income and other payroll taxes paid in the foreign country. Bilateral treaties exist to allow workers to regain benefits. For example, credits for contributions into the US Social Security system for years worked in the US may be transferred to the Canada Pension Plan and Old Age Security eligibility with the proper paperwork under what is known in the US as a Totalization Agreement.[3]

Comparison to H-1B visa

TN status has some similarities with the H-1B visa. TN status may be easier for some Canadians or Mexicans to obtain, as they are not subject to the annual cap for H-1B visas issued. However, because the TN status is adjudicated at the border, TN status can also be revoked at any time at the border (if a Canadian is re-entering the US), even if it is not up for renewal. Thus it is important to be sure that any application is perfectly airtight. But the most important difference is that TN status does not include the doctrine of dual intent. Therefore, Canadians or Mexicans on TN status must be careful if they desire to ultimately pursue the green card. Either they should first switch to the H-1B visa before applying for the green card, or they must carefully time things to ensure they do not attempt to renew TN status after the green card application is formally pending (generally meaning that Form I-485 package has been filed for TN holder; those pursuing consular process can renew until just before the interview appointment at an Immigrant Visa issuing US Consulate).

Mexican citizens in the United States

The procedures for Mexican citizens applying for TN status are a bit more complex than for Canadians, although they have been significantly simplified. Prior to 2004, Mexicans were subject to an annual quota and to procedures similar to an H-1B visa. Since 2004, a Mexican citizen would first obtain a US TN-2 visa at a US consulate (generally in Mexico). Once the TN visa stamp is obtained in the Mexican citizen's passport, they may enter the US in TN status in a similar manner to a Canadian citizen, and are admitted into the US in the TN-2 status.

In US Fiscal Years 2007 through 2009, between 4,000 and 5,000 TN visas (i.e., TN-2 visas for Mexicans) were issued by US consulates each year.[4]