Individuals new to U.S. immigration law and unfamiliar with the NAFTA provisions for Canadian citizens often confuse a TN visa with TN nonimmigrant status. There is a significant difference between a TN visa and TN non-immigrant status. This distinction can be explained by looking at the double-check system of the U.S. immigration process.
Generally, admission to the U.S. involves a double-check system consisting of an application for a non-immigrant visa and then inspection at a U.S. port-of-entry. A foreign citizen who wishes to temporality visit the U.S. must apply for a non-immigrant visa at a U.S. consulate abroad. A visa is a document affixed or stamped to a page in an individual’s passport. A visa serves as a “ticket” that permits a foreign citizen to apply for admission at a U.S. port of entry or board an airplane to the U.S. Several non-immigrant worker categories require the prior approval of a visa petition by USCIS. For example, the temporary worker H-1B visa category requires the submission and approval of an I-129 petition with USCIS before an H-1B visa may be issued by the consulate.
After a foreign citizen obtains a non-immigrant visa, he or she may travel to the U.S. and apply for admission. Upon arrival at a port of the United States a foreign citizen is examined by immigration officers to determine the individual’s eligibility for admission into the U.S. If the foreign citizen meets the eligibility requirements for a non-immigrant visa category and is not found inadmissible, he or she may be admitted to the U.S. under lawful non-immigrant status. The inspector will issue an I-94 card that provides the date and place of admission, the nonimmigrant classification, and the authorized period of stay. The I-94 serves as evidence of lawful non-immigrant status.
A Canadian citizen generally does not need a visa in order to apply for admission to the U.S. Under the streamlined provisions of NAFTA, a Canadian citizen does not need to obtain a TN visa or file a petition with USCIS before applying for admission to the U.S. as a TN professional worker. A Canadian citizen may apply for admission to the U.S. and for work authorization under NAFTA TN status directly at the U.S. border or at an international airport. The application process is complete in one step. If the application is approved, the individual receives an I-94 card that serves as evidence of lawful TN non-immigrant status. For Canadian citizens applying for TN status a visa never enters into the equation.