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TN Application Update -- You can now apply by mail!

By Douglas M Lightman Esq.
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Under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), Canadian and Mexican professionals may enter the US to work for a US employer under the Trade NAFTA (TN) work visa classification.  The TN visa allows professionals who fall within specific professional categories (for the complete list of professions see TN Visa Professions) to enter the US to work in their field for a US employer for a period of up to 3 years per application. 

Prior to October 1, 2012, Canadian citizens outside of the US at the time of application could only apply for a TN visa at a port-of-entry, such as a land border, pre-flight clearance, or at an airport in the US after arriving from an international flight.  On October 1, 2012, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) began accepting TN visa applications on behalf of Canadians situated outside of the US by mail at the Vermont Service Center (VSC).  Applying through the VSC requires an additional fee and is more time consuming than applying at a port-of-entry, but it does offer applicants and US employers some benefits and added flexibility.

The following are a list of benefits related to the recently added mail application option: 

• Pre-Approval:  The mail application allows for pre-approval; up to 6 months in advance.  This allows for advanced planning by both the employer and Canadian beneficiary.
• Inconsistent port-of-entry decisions:  Ports-of-entry tend to vary in how they adjudicate TN petitions and, unfortunately, in how they train their officers.  The mail application allows a TN beneficiary to avoid applying at a port of entry with inconsistent adjudications.
• Challenging applications:  Some TN petitions are more challenging than others, particularly if they fall within a certain category, like management consultant or scientific technician.  In some scenarios, applications in these categories may be adjudicated more smoothly at the VSC.
• Interview/Confrontation Avoidance:  Many dread the interview process associated with applying for a TN, which can sometimes turn out to be rather confrontational.  Obtaining a pre-approved TN through the VSC can ease some of this concern.
• 2nd bite at the apple:  The mail application could possibly be used as a backup option if a border application is unsuccessful.  This should only be pursued under the right circumstances.
• Appeal process:  There really is no appeal process when applying at a port-of-entry, whereas a mail application does allow for an appeal process related to a negative decision.

While there are benefits to applying by mail, there are also some downsides, such as filing fees, the amount of time it can take to obtain a decision, and the fact that the Canadian applicant cannot orally plead or supplement his/her case.  An application by mail will entail a filing fee of $325, plus $1225 for premium processing if a 15 calendar-day turnaround is necessary.  A petition filed via regular processing (i.e. without paying $1225 for premium processing), could take approximately 2-4 months to be adjudicated.  When applying through a port-of-entry there is a fee of $50-56 and, obviously, an immediate answer. 

It will be up to the US employer and Canadian applicant to decide which method is more appropriate and convenient based on their specific situation and plans.  However, this a positive step on the part of the USCIS to increase the variety of application options thereby adding some flexibility to the process.  More information on the TN visa can be found at: http://lightmanlawfirm.com/canada-to-us-immigration/tn-visa.html.


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