Do you have a TN visa? Know your rights!

Overview

1. What is the TN visa?

A TN visa is a visa category created by the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and is available to Canadian or Mexican citizens to reside and temporarily work in the United States. The visa lasts for a maximum period of three years, subject to extension and limitless renewal. It is designed as a professional visa, and visa holders must meet the criteria laid out in NAFTA.

2. What types of work can TN visa holders perform?

TN visa applicants must fall under one of the authorized professions under the NAFTA regulations. Professional categories range from economists and psychologists to meteorologists and university professors.

Authorized Professions Under the TN Visa:

General: Accountant, Architect, Computer Systems Analyst, Disaster Relief Insurance Claims Adjuster (claims Adjuster employed by an insurance company located in the territory of a Party, or an independent claims adjuster), Economist, Engineer, Forester, Graphic Designer, Hotel Manager, Industrial Designer, Interior Designer, Land Surveyor, Landscape Architect, Lawyer (including Notary in the Province of Quebec), Librarian, Management Consultant, Mathematician (including Statistician), Range Manager/Range Conservationist, Research Assistant (working in a post-secondary educational institution), Scientific Technician/Technologist, Social Worker, Sylviculturist (including Forestry Specialist), Technical Publications Writer, Urban Planner (including Geographer), Vocational Counselor.

Medical/Allied Professional: Dentist, Dietitian, Medical Laboratory Technologist (Canada)/Medical Technologist (Mexico and the United States), Nutritionist, Occupational Therapist, Pharmacist, Physician (teaching or research only), Physiotherapist/Physical Therapist, Psychologist, Recreational Therapist, Registered Nurse, Veterinarian.

Scientist: Agriculturist (including Agronomist), Animal Breeder, Animal Scientist, Apiculturist, Astronomer, Biochemist, Biologist, Chemist, Dairy Scientist, Entomologist, Epidemiologist, Geneticist, Geologist, Geochemist, Geophysicist (including Oceanographer in Mexico and the United States), Horticulturist, Meteorologist, Pharmacologist, Physicist (including Oceanographer in Canada), Plant Breeder, Poultry Scientist, Soil Scientist, Zoologist.

Teacher: College, Seminary, University.

3. What happens to my visa if NAFTA is renegotiated, or is done away with entirely?

If NAFTA changes, or if parties to the Agreement withdraw, the TN visa program may be affected. The fate of NAFTA is unclear, and withdrawal may or may not affect the TN visa. We will keep updated information on this page and on our blog. You can subscribe to alerts here, and we will share information as it becomes available.

Visa process and recruitment

4. How do I get a TN visa?

As with other temporary work visas, recruitment for the TN visa takes many forms. Workers report being recruited through job fairs, recruitment agencies, individual recruiters, or friends….” Mexican TN workers apply for the TN visa at the U.S. consulate. For a description of the process for Canadian TN workers, see Question 12, below. If the consulate grants the visa, the TN worker travels to the United States to begin work.

At the consular interview, TN applicants must present proof of citizenship (usually a passport), a letter of support or contract from prospective employer(s), and evidence of the education and credentials required for the job you will perform as a TN visa holder. TN applicants may list more than one employer in their visa application. The letter of support or contract from the employer should describe the employer’s need for the employee, a list of the TN applicant’s duties and a description of the profession, the pay arrangements and hours the employee is expected to work, and the start and end dates of the needed services.

5. Do I have to pay to get a TN visa position or visa? Can a recruiter charge me a fee to connect me with a TN employer?

Unlike some other visa categories, there are no specific rules requiring employers to cover the costs associated with recruitment or the TN visa application process. TN visa holders often pay the costs of transportation to and from consular appointments, to and from their workplace in the United States, and the visa application fee. They are also often charged recruitment fees.

Under some circumstances, you might be able to recover some or all of your pre-employment and recruitment costs. If you have questions about these costs, contact Centro de los Derechos del Migrante in the U.S. at 1-855-234-9699, in Mexico at 01-800-590-1773 or via email (contratados@cdmigrante.org).

Note that workers who are charged recruitment fees and incur pre-employment debt have reported that leaving an abusive employer was more difficult.

6. Can I contract with multiple employers?

Yes, more than one employer can be listed on a single TN visa. A TN visa holder can work for more than one employer at the same time.

7. How long can I stay in the United States on a TN visa?

The maximum initial stay on a TN visa is three years. The actual length of stay is determined by the letter your employer has sent in support of your application, the type of TN visa profession, and the expiration date on your passport.

To extend a stay with the same TN employer, you may re-apply at the consulate with the same process you went through initially, or you or your employer can file form I-129 with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to request anextension.

As mentioned in Question 6, a TN visa may list multiple employers. If this is the case, you may extend your stay on the visa with one or more of those employers.

8. Can I bring my family with me to the United States?

Yes, spouses and unmarried children under the age of 21 of TN visa holders can accompany TN visa holders by applying for TD visas. TD visa holders are not allowed to work in the U.S. unless they receive authorization independently of the TD visa; however, they are allowed to attend school. At the consular interview, applicants for the TD visa must also show proof of citizenship, proof of relationship to the TN visa holder (for example, a birth or marriage certificate), and proof of the TN visa holder’s status if the family member(s) do not apply for their visas at the same time as the TN visa holder.

9. How do I avoid fraud in the recruitment process?

The recruiter should be able to give you details about the job you will work in the United States, such as the name of the employer, the job location, the type of duties you will perform, the weekly hours you will be expected to work and how much you will be paid. As mentioned above, an applicant for a TN visa is required to submit a “letter of support” or contract from the employer(s) with details about the job. If the recruiter is unable to provide you with those details, it could be a warning sign that the job does not exist.

Once the recruiter provides you with this information, you should contact the employer directly to confirm the details of the job offer and the identify of the recruiter. It is important to attempt to verify the job offer BEFORE paying any fees, as it is very difficult to recover money from a fraudulent recruiter.

10. Is my employer required to provide me with a contract? What should I look for in a contract provided to me?

There is no express requirement in the TN visa rules that an employer provide a traditional employment contract. The letter that your employer is required to provide you for your interview at the consulate may function as a contract even if it is not presented to you as a contract. Nevertheless, the letter may not extend the same legal protections as a written contract between you and your employer detailing the terms and conditions of the job.

Workers recruited for a TN visa often report not receiving a written contract, and when a contract has been provided, it can be vague or misleading. A strong contract can help you enforce your rights if you face abuses in the workplace. You can strengthen your protections in the workplace by asking your employer for a document in writing detailing your job duties, your wages, when and how often you are paid, how and how much you are paid for overtime hours worked, information about whether you or your employer will pay for transportation and visa processing costs, and information about potential deductions and fees. It may be easier to enforce your rights if this document is in writing, signed by both you and your employer.

See Question 11 for more details about what to look for in a contract.

11. What are contract breach fees? Are they legal?

Some TN contracts contain breach fees--costs workers have to pay their employer if they leave the job before the contract term is complete. These breach fees are in some cases as high as $15,000. Breach fees can prevent workers from reporting abuses in the workplace or leaving an unsatisfactory job. Make sure to consider your options if you find a breach fee clause in your contract, as you may be required to pay the stated amount if you have to leave your job before the end of the contract term. These fees could make leaving an abusive employer even more difficult.

If possible, you should ask for a contract BEFORE going to the consulate and take the time to review and understand its contents. If you can’t get the information you’ve asked for, before deciding to accept a TN visa, contact Centro de los Derechos del Migrante (CDM): in the U.S. at 1-855-234-9699, in Mexico at 01-800-590-1773 or via email (contratados@cdmigrante.org).

12. What is the difference between the TN process for Canadian citizens and the TN process for Mexican citizens?

Because Canadian citizens generally do not need a nonimmigrant visa to enter the United States, they can simply apply at a border crossing or international airport for TN status, instead of first going to a consulate to apply for a TN visa. At entry, Canadian citizens receive an I-94 card as proof of their status as a TN professional worker. By contrast, Mexican citizens must visit the U.S. embassy or consulate to apply for a TN visa before seeking entry.

Canadians seeking to change or add employers may do so by leaving the United States and reapplying at the border crossing or airport. Mexican citizens must reapply either by filing a form I-129 with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) or by returning to Mexico and starting the application process from the beginning (see Question 4).

My rights in the workplace

13. What wages does my employer have to pay me?

The consular officer reviewing your application should make sure that your wages are set at a professional level. Although you are not guaranteed the wage that H-1B workers are paid, you can compare the wage you were offered to the wage that other workers in your industry and location are paid by clicking this link.

Employers of TN workers are still subject to federal and state minimum wage and overtime laws. The federal minimum wage is currently $7.25 per hour; state minimum wages vary widely. (For a full and updated list of state minimum wages, please visit the U.S. Department of Labor at this link). With some exceptions (for example, if you work in agriculture), federal law requires employers to pay overtime (time and half) when employees work over 40 hours in a workweek. For example, if an employee earns $14.00 per hour, and she works 44 hours in a workweek, for those four extra hours the employer is required to pay a rate of $21.00 per hour (1.5 x 14.00). Some states require overtime pay after an employee works more than 8 hours in a day, regardless of the weekly total.

Also, employers are not required to pay professional employees and certain computer employees the federal minimum wage. Regardless, these workers must be paid at least $455 per week.For further information on the professional exemption, click here.

14. If I don’t like my job, can I change employers or placements? Can I add an employer to my visa?

You may not work for any employer not listed on your original TN application. However, you may change or add an employer by filing a form I-129 with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) while your current TN visa is still valid. The application process is similar to the one you went through to get your visa: you will need to submit a letter of support from your new employer and proof of professional credentials.

You may also re-apply for a new TN visa by returning to Mexico and starting the process from the beginning. (See Question 12 for other options for Canadian citizens).

15. What are common abuses of TN workers’ rights in the workplace?

TN workers report experiencing wage theft, threats of retaliation from employers, and discrimination in the workplace. Some workers report expecting jobs as a highly trained professional in their fields, but have ended up performing secretarial duties, cleaning company bathrooms and other menial tasks, and being paid far below the promised annual wage. In other cases, workers report that the employer promised a certain wage rate and job duties, but when the worker arrived, the employer functioned as a staffing agency, requiring the worker to find temporary contract work with third parties.

TN visa holders often find it difficult to leave abusive employment situations because they have taken on significant debt to get the job and are tied to their employers under the terms of the visa. Because free or low-cost legal aid organizations are unable to provide assistance to TN visa holders in many cases, TN workers have also faced difficulties in accessing legal representation or legal advice. If you feel that you have been subject to abuses in your workplace, please contact Centro de los Derechos del Migrante, CDM: in the U.S. at 1-855-234-9699, in Mexico at 01-800-590-1773 or via email (contratados@cdmigrante.org); or one of the other organizations listed under Question 17.

CDM and other organizations have also received reports of labor trafficking under work visas. Labor trafficking occurs when recruiters, contractors, employers, and others force people to work against their will using violence, fraud, or other forms of coercion. If you think you have been a victim of labor trafficking, please contact the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at 1-888-373-7888 or the Trafficking in Persons and Worker Exploitation Task Force at 1-888-428-7581.

16. What are some of my rights in the workplace?

In general, you have the right to:

  • The federal minimum wage, the minimum wage of the state in which you are working, or the wage that the employer promised you, whichever is highest. Depending on the type of work you perform, you also have a right to overtime pay, or 1.5 times your normal hourly rate, for every hour over 40 hours you work each week. In some states you have a right to overtime for every hour you work over 8 hours in a day. See Question 13 for further details.
  • Employment and recruitment free from discrimination based on your age over 40, sex, race, national origin, ethnicity, color, religion, disability, or pregnancy;
  • Work without being subjected to sexual harassment;
  • Safe and healthy working conditions, including: employer-paid medical treatment for all work-related injuries and illnesses (depending on state and local laws regarding workers’ compensation); appropriate protective equipment and proper training about dangerous conditions in the workplace; and
  • Employment free from retaliation, which means that you can report abuses by your employer or take other legal action without having adverse actions taken against you.

Although most of these rights are guaranteed by federal law, some may vary by state, occupation, or may not apply to all TN workers. It is important to have your particular situation assessed. If you feel that your rights have been violated in the workplace, contact the Centro de los Derechos del Migrante: toll free in the U.S. at 1-855-234-9699, toll free in Mexico at 01-800-590-1773, direct by phone (U.S.: +1-410-783-0236; Mexico: +52-55-5211-9397) or via email (contratados@cdmigrante.org). Or, contact one of the organizations listed below in Question 17.

17. What should I do if my workplace rights are violated?

If you think your workplace rights have been violated, you can contact:

  • The U.S. Department of Labor, Wage and Hour Division: 1-866-487-9243. The Department of Labor (DOL) handles wage and hour claims and can conduct investigations to find out whether employers are complying with federal law. Contact the DOL if you have unpaid wages or have faced retaliation from your employer.
  • The National Human Trafficking Resource Center: 1-888-373-7888; the Trafficking in Persons and Worker Exploitation Task Force: 1-888-428-7581. If you feel that you have been forced to work or perform services against your will, through violence, threats, lies, debt bondage, or any other form of coercion, contact the National Human Trafficking Resource Center or the Trafficking in Persons and Worker Exploitation Task Force.
  • Centro de los Derechos del Migrante, CDM in the U.S. at 1-855-234-9699,in Mexico at 01-800-590-1773 or via email (contratados@cdmigrante.org). For any violation of your workplace or labor rights, or if you have a question about any of the information listed here, contact the Centro de los Derechos del Migrante.

18. What should I do if a crime is committed against me in the U.S.?

Contact U.S. law enforcement immediately by dialing 911 from any telephone. Depending on the nature of the crime, you may be eligible for immigration relief. More information about “U” visas, available for victims of certain qualifying crimes, can be found here in English and here in Spanish. Information about “T” visas, for victims of human trafficking, can be found here in English and here in Spanish. If you believe you have been a victim of a workplace crime, you can also contact CDM at in the U.S. at 1-855-234-9699, in Mexico at 01-800-590-1773 or via email (contratados@cdmigrante.org).

19. Can my employer or sponsor send me home if I complain about my working conditions?

Under federal law, employers cannot retaliate against their employees for complaining that their workplace rights are being violated. If you think that your sponsor or employer has retaliated against you, contact theU.S. Department of Labor, Wage and Hour Division at 1-866-487-9243 or the Centro de los Derechos del Migrante in the U.S. at 1-855-234-9699, in Mexico at 01-800-590-1773 or via email (contratados@cdmigrante.org).

20. How do I let other TN visa holders know about my experience?

There are social media pages for TN visa holders where you can share your experiences. You can also write a review of your experience with a recruiter or employer at www.contratados.org, operated by the Centro de los Derechos del Migrante.

Caution! This is an overview of some of TN workers’ most important civil and employment rights under U.S. law. It does not include all of your rights. This summary is NOT legal advice.

It is important to always consult with a lawyer for advice about your specific situation.

IF YOU THINK THAT YOUR RIGHTS HAVE BEEN VIOLATED, CALL THE CENTRO DE LOS DERECHOS DEL MIGRANTE FOR A FREE LEGAL CONSULTATION

From Mexico: 01-800-590-1773
From the United States: 1-855-234-9699