The Trade NAFTA (TN) visa makes it easier for Canadian and Mexican citizens to legally enter the US. This non-immigrant visa is valid for three years. Can one apply for US permanent residency (“green card”) while on TN status? The answer is yes, but with extreme caution.
Technically, anyone with a non-immigrant visa and meets the permanent residency requirements may apply for a green card. The intent to stay, though, can create problems for a TN visa holder.
This is because the TN visa is “single intent,” which means that the foreign national who enters the US must declare that they intend to leave before the visa expires. By contrast, persons who hold a “dual intent” visa (such as H-1B and L-1) are allowed to seek permanent residence even if this was not the intention they originally declared upon entry.
For a foreigner on TN status, there is a narrow window to pursue a green card application. First, there is a risk that visa officials will flag a TN visa holder for even applying for residency. Again, staying in the US for good must not be the original intention of a TN visa holder, so their permanent residency application may cause them to lose their TN status.
In addition, ample time is needed for the permanent residency process. Some estimates say that employment-based green card processing may take up to six years. This far exceeds the time period when a TN visa is valid. If the foreigner’s green card application remains pending by the time their TN visa expires, they will have to return to their home country and then reapply for a visa to enter the US again.
Difficulties may also arise when reapplying for a single-intent non-immigrant visa while a green card application is pending. Immigration officials may likely question the applicant’s plan to leave or stay in the US. The fact that there is an application for permanent US residency may cause the denial of a TN visa reapplication or renewal.
Gaining permanent residency in the US while on a TN visa requires careful planning and legal strategizing. Some decide to switch to H-1B or L-1 status first before pursuing a green card. For others, it’s all about timing – not too soon after entry that it may to arouse suspicion, but not too late that they may run out of time for green card processing.
If you are a TN visa holder who now wishes to live in the US permanently, please consult with an immigration lawyer to avoid legal issues. The US immigration attorneys at Richards & Jurusik are experienced and ready to help. Call us today 716-970-4007