The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), signed by Canada, the United States, and Mexico, went into effect sixteen years ago this month. Although its economic effects remain controversial, it has certainly facilitated the movement of Canadian and Mexican professionals into the United States. Approximately 100,000 Canadians and Mexicans entered the United States in Nonimmigrant NAFTA professional or “TN” status in 2009. Unlike other work-based visas to the United States such as the H-1B, there is no numerical limit for the number of TN visas issued every year and they are relatively easy to obtain compared to other work-based visas. Applicants must show that their profession is on the NAFTA list of professions, they have the qualifications required for that profession, and that an employer has agreed to hire them in a position that requires a NAFTA professional. Canadians may either apply in advance or at a port of entry into the United States, while Mexicans must first obtain a TN visa before entering the United States. TN status is now valid for three years and can be extended indefinitely. Hopefully, 2012 will bring us reform in many areas of immigration law; Congress could perhaps use the TN visa as a model to simplify the current process businesses must undergo to hire foreign professionals.
See NY Times article on the economic controversies of NAFTA: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/24/business/worldbusiness/24peso.html?ref=northamericanfreetradeagreement
See U.S. Department of State website on TN visas: http://travel.state.gov/visa/temp/types/types_1274.html
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