The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) created for the United States, Canada and Mexico a special economic and trade relationship. According to this agreement, for involving themselves in business activities using the TN non-immigrant visa classification, qualified Canadian and Mexican citizens are permitted temporary entry to US. The TN workers are strictly allowed to stay in US only temporarily and they cannot further proceed to become permanent resident unless they change their status in order to be eligible for it but cannot apply for green card as a TN status worker.
TN worker after entering the U.S. may have to change to another non-immigrant visa status for work or study purposes. A change of status is applicable in case a TN status worker accepts a job not designated as TN occupation or for pursuing US green card change to the category which allows them to apply for permanent resident status.
Procedure to change TN status
Form I-129, Non-immigrant Visa Petition should be completed, with the appropriate supplemental form for the requested category if a TN worker is seeking to change status to a non-immigrant worker category (E, H, L, O, P, Q, or R). INS forms I-539 should be used by family members of TN status workers applying to change to a non-immigrant worker category for a change of status to the appropriate dependent visa status, submitted with Form I-129. Please get online help for more details on these work authorized visa categories and their corresponding dependent categories.
For other non-immigrant categories not listed above TN status workers seeking change should complete and submit Form I-539. In case even if a TN worker has lost job and wants time to wrap up things before leaving U.S. this Form I-539 would be appropriate.
TN worker cannot travel outside U.S. after change of status request has been filed else it will cause the application to become abandoned and will be denied subsequent application from USCIS. Traveling during the time period when the application is being processed before approval is allowed but should be avoided since problems arise when reentering U.S. if the inspecting officer is not clear on the specific situation. For instance when person currently entering in TN visa status to assume H-1B status in 2 months.
A TN worker should not travel out of the U.S. once a request has been filed to change status until after the request has been approved and the new status has taken effect. Prior to returning to the U.S., at that time, the foreign national will need to apply for a visa stamp in the new non-immigrant category.
Applying for a Green Card
The law strictly only allows the TN visa holder to come for temporary stay in the U.S. Re-entry to the U.S. once the Green Card application has formally been submitted by a TN worker, certain issues may arise. A pending Green Card application is clearly contrary to the purpose of the TN visa category. Before beginning the Green card application process TN workers are strongly advised to first change to another non-immigrant status that fits their needs and also allows for the pursuit of U.S. permanent residency.