Can I enter the U.S. on a TN visa during Covid-19? Processing TN Visas in Times of US Canada Border COVID-19 Restrictions.

By May 22, 2020Covid 19

On March 21, U.S., Canada, and Mexico announced that the land borders between the three countries will close to non-essential travel. The initial closure was to last through April 20 and has now been extended to June 22. The Customs and Border Protection (CBP) have defined non-essential travel as travel that is considered tourism or recreational in nature, including sightseeing, gambling, and attending cultural events. To learn more about the restrictions, please click here.

Under the definition of essential travel, CPB have included “Individuals traveling to work in the United States…)”.

What does this mean for TN visa applicants at the border?  Can a TN applicant enter the U.S.?

If you are a citizen of Canada or Mexico, your profession qualifies under the TN regulations, the position in the U.S. requires a NAFTA professional, you have the necessary qualification, and you have a pre-arranged employment with a U.S. employer, you may apply for a TN visa.

As a general rule, Canadian nationals may apply for a TN visa when entering the U.S. at the border and the exception for “work” listed above means you should be able to enter even during the travel ban. If you are a Canadian national, you should bring your passport, the original  (with original wet signature) letter, your degree and transcripts, and any other supporting documents.  Given the uncertain times caused by the global pandemic, TN visa applicants at the border should prepare for more scrutiny and except more strict application process. Here are some things you should prepare for and consider before applying.

  1. Call the Port of Entry before you Travel

 Every port of entry is operating under different procedures right now. It is strongly recommended that you call a port before travelling and speak to officers about their current procedures. You can find contact information on all of the pre-clearance ports in Canada here.

When calling the port, ask the officers about whether they are processing TN visas at the time and if there are any special procedures during these times. Ask the officers what their hours of processing TN’s are, as most locations do not operate 24 hours. It’s recommended that you arrive at the airport at least 2 hours before your flight to process the visa, and if you have an early flight, the office may not be open yet.

When speaking on the phone with the officer, ask who you are speaking to, take down their names and their badge number if they provide it. Let the officers know when you will be coming and your flight information. While most Canadian ports are very familiar with processing TN visas, it’s not unusual that there may be communication issues between different officers in these times. If you have issues at the port, knowing the name of the officer you spoke to may give you more leeway with other officers.

  1. Original Signatures on TN Letters

It is a requirement of the TN visa that the signatures on the letter must be original. When contacting the port, ask them what their current policy on original signatures are. If it is still required, ask your U.S. employer to mail the original letter to you. Any application that does not have a TN visa with an original signature is likely to be denied.  Pearson International Airport in Toronto still requires original signatures at this time.

  1. Supporting Documents Recommendations

 In addition to the usual supporting documents of a TN visa, click here to learn more, we also recommend you bring the following documents.

  1. Print the official Customs and Border Protection Rule on the travel restrictions. You can find the official rule on the Federal Register website here. Specifically, print the section in the essential travel that lists travelling for work as one of the permitted activities.
  1. Bring any evidence that your work is essential. If you work in an essential field, bringing documentation showing your job is essential would be an important part of the supporting documents. (If at all possible but the job may not be essential).
  1. Prepare for the possibility that the TN Applicant Will not be Processed

Although travelling for work is a part of the essential travel as defined by the CBP, the Rule does provide an example of what this travel is (agriculture workers and farmers). Given the example provided is one of an essential worker, there is a possibility that CBP officers may interpret this to mean that the only work related travelers should be essential workers right now.

As there is no clear guidance on this, different ports and different CBP officers can have different interpretation of what this rule means. You should be prepared for the possibility that the visa will not be processed or approved at this time. This is especially important for those applicants who are applying at an airport and have flights to travel to the U.S. later that day. If the TN visa is not approved and you still enter the U.S., you can only enter the country on ESTA or a B visa if you already have one. Neither option permits work in the U.S. so you will not be able to work.

The current travel restrictions between the two countries have been extended to June 22. The policy may again be reviewed for possible extension in June depending on the status of the COVID emergency at that time. Until the travel restrictions is lifted, TN visa applicants at the border should prepare for a stricter application process and more scrutiny from officers of their applications.

If you are currently in the United States on an TN visa, you can apply for an extension of status with USCIS without having to leave the country. To learn more about extension of status, please click here.

You can find key immigration information related to the Corona Virus below

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