Now that the H-1B visa lottery is set to begin, and no H-1B visas will be available until 2015, U.S. employers must begin to plan for a plan B. One great alternative allows them to look to their NAFTA neighbor countries, Mexico and Canada, to fill the holes caused by the inadequate H-1B quota.

Generally, when a foreign tional wants to come to the United States for any length of time, he or she must first obtain either a nonimmigrant visa to allow for a temporary stay, or an immigrant visa which can be used to work towards permanent residence.

However there are-exceptions. For example, the TN visa allows citizens of Canada and Mexico who classify as “NAFTA professionals” to enter the US for the specific purpose of working here.

NAFTA (The North American Free Trade Agreement), signed in 1994, is a trilateral free trade agreement between the United States, Canada and Mexico.

The agreement’s intent is to expand trade between the nations of North America, which necessarily allows certain skilled Canadian and Mexican workers entry into the United States.

Within the TN set of qualified occupations Americans, Canadians and Mexicans can:

  • Work for up to 3 years at a time;

  • Renew status indefinitely  as long as employment/sponsor-based relationship continues;

  • Take their spouses and dependent children with them under a “TD status” designation.

Note: There are some differences between how a Canadian citizen and a Mexican citizen can apply for the TN visa.

  • Mexican citizens must first obtain a visa to enter the United States as a TN nonimmigrant. That is done at a U.S. embassy or consulate in Mexico. Once the TN visa stamp is placed in the Mexican citizen’s passport, he or she may then enter the United States freely.

  • A Canadian citizen is not required to apply for a TN visa at a US embassy or consulate in Canada, but can do so at any port of entry, including air and land border crossings which are administered by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and making an application directly.

Someone who is interested in applying for a TN visa should contact a qualified attorney who specializes in employment visas and consular law immediately.

For a list of qualifying TN professions, click here.

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