US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has announced that, effective October 1, 2012, applications for Trade NAFTA (TN) status for Canadians may be filed with USCIS on Form I-129, even if the applicant is outside of the United States. Previously, USCIS accepted TN applications only for individuals already in the US requesting either a change of status to TN or an extension of TN status. Individuals outside of the US were required to present their TN applications to US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) at the time they sought entry into the United States. Problems during border adjudication can be extremely disruptive because they occur while the applicant is traveling, resulting in missed flights or wasted hours driving to a border post.

With this change, a TN application may now be filed in advance of the applicant seeking entry in TN status, allowing the applicant to travel without the uncertainty of whether the application will be approved. This rule even extends to individuals who are seeking TN classification for the first time. Employers and applicants may still choose to process TN applications at the border, but this new filing option allows the application to be processed in advance of the applicant’s travel. This will be particularly helpful in cases where CBP may question TN eligibility or where delays may derail a critical assignment in the US.

The choice of USCIS adjudication or border processing for Canadian TNs is much like the choice already available for Canadian L-1 petitions, which are also eligible for border processing or filing with USCIS in advance of travel.

Choosing to file a TN application with USCIS will require completing forms and paying filing fees that are not needed for border processing, but these increased costs and additional employer efforts may be offset by the certainty of having a TN approval already in hand when seeking admission to the United States.