Question: I am a citizen of Mexico, and recently obtained a TN visa stamp at the U.S. Embassy. The expiration date for my TN visa stamp is 1 year, but in the bottom it has the length of my contract, which is 3 years. Do I have to renew this every year? If so, is the process any different than what I had to do this time since it would be just a renewal?
Reply: The response to the question involves distinguishing between a visa stamp, and one’s visa status. A visa stamp governs an individual’s ability to travel to and seek admission to the U.S. A visa stamp has no bearing on the length of time an individual may remain in the U.S. See 9 FAM 41.112 N1. The period of time an individual may be allowed to remain in the U.S. is referred to as visa status, and is determined by USCBP officers when the individual enters the U.S. An individual’s period of stay is documented in an I-94 record. (The I-94 can be a physical card and/or an online record).
Your ability to travel to the U.S. is governed by the 1-year expiration date listed in your TN visa stamp. Provided your I-94 record has not expired, you may continue to work and reside in the U.S. even after the TN visa stamp expires. You do not have to renew your TN visa stamp unless you need to travel outside the U.S. Generally, you cannot re-enter the U.S. unless you possess an unexpired visa stamp. (You may have limited travel authorization after the TN visa stamp expires under the visa re-validation process, but this is not a very “durable” manner of traveling.)
The annotation beneath the TN visa stamp expiration date indicates that the employer was seeking your services for 3 years, which is permitted under the regulations. This annotation helps guide the border officer’s issuance of your I-94 record, and the determination of your period of stay in the U.S., which can be up to 3 years. See my other articles on this issue here and here. The I-94 record is the document that governs your ability to remain and work in the U.S., i.e. your TN status, and not the TN visa stamp expiration.
To obtain a new I-94 record, you would have two options: (i) file an I-129 petition for an extension of your TN status, which results in the issuance of a new I-94 record (but no explicit travel authorization); or (ii) apply for a new TN visa stamp at the U.S. Embassy/Consulate and seek re-entry at a U.S. port-of-entry, at which you will be issued a new I-94 record. Applying for a new TN visa stamp generally requires submission of all of the same documentation. However, in certain instances, when renewing a visa stamp you may qualify for a waiver of the interview requirement.