U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) published the final rule on October 16 increasing the allowable period of admission for Trade NAFTA (TN) professionals from one year to three years. This was a long anticipated change as it had been identified by the Bush Administration in August 2007 as one of 26 immigration improvement initiatives and later introduced as a proposed rule on May 9, 2008 (see the June 2008 issue of the Immigration eAuthority).

The TN nonimmigrant classification permits qualified Canadian and Mexican citizens to temporarily work in specified professions in the United States based upon an offer of employment from a U.S. employer. Among the specified professions are accountants, computer systems analysts, engineers and scientists. TN applicants must commonly hold a relevant bachelor’s degree to qualify, though a few professions allow for alternate professional credentials (e.g., a computer systems analyst can qualify based on a two-year post-secondary diploma plus three years of related work experience.)

The new rule means that initial applications and extension requests filed by TN applicants can now be approved in three-year increments, just like the H-1B classification. However, it is possible that a TN might be approved for less than three years, for example where the job offer supporting the TN application indicates a duration of employment of only one year. TN status does not have a defined maximum total period of stay. It is within the discretion of immigration officers to limit TN periods of stay or deny TN extension requests if the TN applicant has demonstrated the intent to establish permanent residence in the United States.

Please note that anecdotal reports indicate that at least a few Ports-of-Entry have not yet received instructions from headquarters and therefore did not implement the rule on October 16 consistent with the new regulation. TN applicants should be aware that three-year requests might not be honored as yet.

A press release and FAQ sheet on the new rule are available on the USCIS website.