DOS Will No Longer Annotate TN Visa Stamps for Work Period

Despite past assurances as recently as Oct. 2016, the U.S. Department of State (DOS) has now stated that it will no longer annotate TN visa stamps to reflect the dates of employment requested by a TN visa petitioner. (TN visa stamps are generally only issued to citizens of Mexico, and allow them to seek entry to the U.S. under TN status. Canadian citizens are exempt from this visa stamp requirement.)

These TN visa stamp annotations were extremely beneficial in enabling TN visa workers to secure a 3-year I-94 record from USCBP when seeking admission at the U.S. border. As written previously, annotating the 3-year work period requested on the TN visa stamp helped ensure that USCBP did not erroneously limit the TN visa worker’s period of stay to the standard 1-year expiration date of the TN visa stamp. Although the practice of annotating TN visa stamps in this manner was not uniform, the chances of USCBP issuing an incorrect period of admission were minimized when this was done. 

The DOS disclosed this new policy during the recent AILA/DOS liaison meeting in April 2017. AILA/DOS Liaison Meeting (Spring 2017), AILA Doc. No. 17041234, pgs. 17-18 (posted 4/12/17). Without further elaboration, the DOS informed AILA that it no longer believed this practice was beneficial, and that final determinations on admissions to the U.S. were to made by USCBP. Id. The DOS also indicated that it had updated the Foreign Affairs Manual to reflect this change in policy. Id. 

What has been the result of this change in policy? As expected, recent TN visa applicants who were approved for TN visa stamps based on applications from employers requesting a 3-year period of stay have been erroneously issued I-94 records only valid for 1-year (the length of the TN visa stamp).  

In light of this policy change, it is important that TN visa holders seeking their initial admission to the U.S. take affirmative steps to ensure they are admitted for the full 3-year period authorized under the TN visa regulations. With the exception of the now unavailable TN visa annotation, instructions on how to facilitate the issuance of a 3-year I-94 record at the border is outlined here

RNs & Others: Remember to Keep Visa Screen Valid

Individuals working in the U.S. under TN visa status as Registered Nurses and in other healthcare occupations require a healthcare worker certificate (visa screen). Not only is the visa screen required for initial TN visa applications, it is also required for TN visa renewal applications. As illustrated in a recent news article, even RNs who have been working in the U.S. for over 20 years under TN visa status can be denied entry to the U.S. unless they have a valid visa screen.

It is, therefore, imperative for RNs and others to be mindful of the expiration dates of their visa screens. RNs should renew their visa screens well in advance to ensure they are issued in time for their TN visa renewal applications. An application for an RN to renew a visa screen can be submitted up to 1 year prior to its expiration. 

It should also be noted that a valid visa screen is technically required during every admission to the U.S., and not just at the time of applying for a TN visa. See 8 CFR 212.5 (d).    

Electronic Device Searches During TN Visa Applications

Question: Can U.S. border officers search my cell phone or laptop when I apply for TN visa status at the border?

Reply: Generally, under an exception to the Fourth Amendment's prohibition of unreasonable searches, USCBP border officers have broad authority to conduct "routine" searches at the border without a warrant. 

The U.S. government asserts that under this exception it has the right to search without a warrant any individual at the border including those applying for TN visa status, or seeking re-entry under a valid TN. The goverment also claims that this includes searching an individual's cell phone or laptop. Refusing to submit to a search, or refusing to provide a password to unlock an electronic device, could result in a TN visa applicant or TN visa holder's denial of entry to the U.S. 

Additional information on USCBP's border search authority, and steps an individual can take to mitigate risk is provided by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Frontier Foundation.