TN Visa – Facilitating Labour Mobility Between Canada, Mexico and the United States

By Bryan Fitzpatrick

The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) came into force January 1, 1994 and was the follow-up agreement to the Canada-United States Free Trade Agreement (CUSFTA), which was initially conceived of by U.S. President Ronald Reagan.

While scholars and pundits have debated the benefits of NAFTA over the past 24 years, U.S. President Donald Trump has unambiguously said that NAFTA, as it is currently drafted, does not benefit the United States of America. Negotiations between the member countries (Canada, Mexico, USA) to revise NAFTA have recently stalled and the future of the NAFTA remains to be seen.

NAFTA is generally thought of as regulating cross-border trade in automobiles, agriculture and industry, however, one lesser known aspect of NAFTA that has been receiving more attention lately is the provision that addresses cross-border movement of professional workers. Indeed, NAFTA also grants what is known as “TN status” or non-immigrant status to citizens of the United States, Canada and Mexico who are professionals in one of the professions listed in Appendix 1603.D.1.

Appendix 1603.D.1 includes 60 different professional categories including: doctor, lawyer, engineer, accountant, teacher and social worker, among others.

As a result of this provision, Canadian, Mexican and American professionals are able to work in one of the other two countries for up to 3 years at a time. While these 3 year visas can be renewed indefinitely they are non-immigrant visas and cannot be used to remain in the other country permanently.

It remains to be seen whether NAFTA will survive, but in the meantime TN status remains a legitimate and viable option for Canadian, Mexican and American professionals wanting to live and work outside of their home country.

Finally, while one can apply for a TN visa at a port of entry there are specific requirements that must be followed in order to qualify and having the assistance of a Canadian or American Immigration lawyer, as the case may be, is advisable in order to ensure a smooth and efficient process at the border.