Considering a move from a TN Visa to a Green Card? Our seven-step guide breaks down the process with tips on everything from eligibility to interviews.
Changing from a TN Visa to a Green Card brings you more long-term stability and security. You can access government benefits, seek new career opportunities, and travel more freely. If you’ve got family members in Canada or Mexico, you can sponsor them to join you more easily.
Although transitioning from a TN visa holder to a permanent resident may be daunting, it’s certainly achievable. Our guide breaks down all the steps, including the fees, paperwork, and interviews.
1. Understand your eligibility
The Trade NAFTA (TN) visa lets Canadian and Mexican citizens enter the United States to work for a period of up to three years with the option for renewal.
When applying for a Green Card on a TN visa, consider your options carefully. You not only have to meet the requirements of your visa but also ensure you maintain your current legal status in the United States.
Maintaining your TN Visa status
Applying for a Green Card while on a TN visa shouldn’t jeopardize your legal status in the United States. While the TN isn’t dual intent, the regulations are somewhat flexible.
Let’s break down what this means.
“Dual intent” means you can enter the U.S. on a nonimmigrant visa with the intent to become a permanent resident. The TN only gives you temporary legal status for specific business or employment purposes. However, you only have to enter the U.S. with the intent to leave—you’re free to change your mind.
You can maintain your TN nonimmigrant status while applying for a Green Card by:
- Waiting at least six months after entering the U.S. to start the application process
- Renewing your TN visa when necessary
- Timing the stages of your application carefully, i.e., filing your I-140 and I-485 separately
- Abiding by the conditions of the visa, i.e., only working for your TN sponsor
- Staying up to date with changes in immigration laws and policies
- Seeking legal advice from experts for any peculiarities in your case
You can also consider switching to a dual intent H1B visa before applying for a Green Card if you work in a specialized field. With H1B status, you can also work for multiple employers.
Deciding on a visa category
As the TN Visa doesn’t automatically qualify you for a Green Card, decide which visa category you’ll apply for. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) presents the following options:
- Employment: The most likely option is through a U.S. employer who can act as your sponsor
- Family: You can apply to join immediate family members who have permanent residency or citizenship in the U.S.
- Victims: If you’re the abused parent, spouse, or child of a U.S. citizen, you’re eligible for this category
- Special immigrants: The USCIS has a category for applicants that don’t fall neatly into the other categories, such as religious workers or former NATO employees
- Other: Some Canadian citizens with American Indian ancestry can apply for Green Cards
If you have dual Mexican or Canadian citizenship with another country, consider the Diversity Lottery. The U.S. selects 50,000 applicants from the pool each year to boost its multiculturalism—if you’re a nationality with low migration rates, you’re a top contender.
Including your dependents
Your spouse and minor children can apply for permanent residency on a family visa. If they’re already living with you on a TD visa, all they have to do is file an I-485 form to adjust their status. If not, they’ll have to undergo consular processing via your home country’s U.S. consulate or embassy.
Any dependents should also maintain their TD visa status while waiting for their Green Cards. That means they must wait until they’ve got permanent residency to accept a job or see if they can apply for work authorization.
2. Find suitable employment
If you’re applying for an employment-based (EB) visa, most Green Card categories require you to find a U.S. sponsor.
The best option is to ask your current employer to support your visa application, as your TN status is tied to your employment. Changing jobs means you’ll have to reapply for a new work visa, which makes the Green Card process take longer.
Once you’ve secured sponsorship, you can get a permanent labor certification, otherwise known as a PERM. Have your sponsor file form ETA form 9089 with the Department of Labor (DOL) to prove you’re more suitable for the role than any available U.S. candidates. They’ll have to provide:
- Their business information
- A detailed job description
- The proffered wages for the role
- Evidence of their efforts to recruit from within the country
The DOL can take between six months and two years to process your ETA 9089. Prepare to keep renewing your TN visa in the meantime.
If you’re eligible for an EB-1 or EB-2 with a national interest waiver, you can self-petition. USCIS won’t require you to get a sponsor or labor certification, expediting the visa process. However, meeting the criteria for these visas is more demanding than other categories—you’ll have to prove you’ve got outstanding ability in your field or that your work has significant merit for the United States.
3. File form I-140 Immigration Petition
Once you’ve received the approved ETA form 9089, have your employer file the I-140 on your behalf. They’ll need:
- Your passport
- Proof of your qualifications (for example, a bachelor’s degree)
- Proof of any skills or experience
- The formal job offer
- Evidence of the employer’s ability to pay
To maintain your legal status, the job offer must be consistent with both your TN visa and Green card categories. Any differences have to make sense. For example, your employer could offer you a small pay raise to reward your commitment, but there shouldn’t be a significant change in your role or salary.
You’re responsible for paying the filing fee of $700 (USD) for the I-140. You can pay by money transfer, check, or card.
4. Get your priority date
Unless you’re in a visa category with immediate availability, you’ll have to wait to file for permanent residency. You’ll receive a receipt number from USCIS, which you can use to track your status on the case studies page.
Your TN visa shouldn’t affect the processing times. However, USCIS caps the number of immigrants per country per year, so you should check the limit for Mexico or Canada on the Visa Bulletin. Read our article on understanding the Visa Bulletin to find out how to check whether your country is oversubscribed.
You can also get an estimated waiting time in months for your Green Card visa category from the USCIS website.
5. Apply to adjust status
When your priority date becomes available, you can file form I-485 for adjustment of status. You should fill in this form yourself, but you can get an immigration lawyer to oversee the process if you’d like.
USCIS requires paperwork to support your application. Although these vary according to your visa category, here’s what you’re likely to need:
- Your passport: You should provide a valid copy of your travel ID
- Passport-sized photos: Standard photos are 50mm by 50mm on glossy paper with a white background
- Proof of legal entry: A copy of the stamped passport pages with your TN visa
- Address history: List everywhere you stayed in the past five years and explain any gaps
- Employment history: State every job you’ve had for the past five years, including voluntary work and part-time positions
- Marriage and birth certificates: These documents verify your identity as well as any links to current U.S. citizens or dependents
- Medical exam results: As part of the Green Card process, you need to schedule a health check and get your copy of form I-693 signed by the clinic
- Police clearance certificate: USCIS sometimes requires applicants to provide them with a background check from their home country
The I-485 filing fees are $1,140 for adults and $750 for children under the age of 14. Once paid, they’re nonrefundable.
After you’ve filed your I-485, you should avoid international travel. You may trigger doubts about the intent of your stay if you’ve got a pending Green Card application when re-entering the United States.
6. Undergo checks
As part of the Green Card application process, you and any dependents have to undergo medical and background checks as well as an interview with USCIS.
You’re not required to schedule anything for the background check. Once USCIS receives your I-485 application, they’ll automatically book your appointment at the nearest Application Support Center (ASC).
All you have to do is come with copies of your ID and copies of your completed forms to give USCIS your biometric fingerprint data. The appointment costs $85 per applicant.
USCIS also schedules the Green Card interview and sends a notice with the details. Immigration officials may ask questions about your original entry into the U.S. to check for fraud, but they know that intent can change. Just prepare to answer their questions in as much detail as possible to help the interview go smoothly.
The medical check is a little different. You must find a doctor from an approved list of civil surgeons and schedule the appointment yourself. Alongside your passport, you should bring your health card, immunization record, and Form I-693.
7. Wait for approval
While your Green Card is pending, you can track your progress on the same case studies page you used for your I-140 form in step four. Processing times vary between visa categories.
Your TN visa effectively ends as soon as USCIS approves your Green Card. You become a lawful permanent resident, and you no longer have to abide by its terms.
Any dependents maintain their nonimmigrant status until USCIS approves their I-485 applications. However, the success rate is high for the immediate family members of Green Card holders.
How Legalpad by Deel can help
If you go the sponsorship route, Legalpad by Deel can support your company through the visa process. We have a team of immigration attorneys who can advise you on the particulars of your case and help you avoid pitfalls. Legalpad supports a wide range of visas, so we can advise you no matter your eligibility.
Don’t have a job offer yet or considering self-petition? You can use Legalpad independent of who hires you to get support for a visa.
Apply for your Green Card with confidence
If you moved to the U.S. on a TN visa and fell in love with the country, the obvious next step is permanent residency. Applying for a Green Card means you can live and work wherever you’d like, for as long as you’d like.
Legalpad by Deel has experience helping Mexican and Canadian citizens get their Green Cards. We can support you through every step of immigrant visa processing and help you navigate the complex U.S. eligibility criteria.
Contact the Legalpad by Deel team to explore Green Card pathways.
Disclaimer: Be aware that this article is not a substitute for legal advice. Please always check official websites or seek legal advice before you take action.