How to go from TN-1 work permit to green card? I wondered about that process and now that I’ve completed my journey to permanent resident, I figured I’d share the story of how it works.
What is TN-1?
TN-1 is a work permit for Canadians and Mexicans under the NAFTA treaty that provides for a 3 year renewable work permit in the United States. The requirements are no immigrant intent, job offer in a specialty occupation, and qualifications for that specialty occupation.
Immigrant intent is one of the most confusing part of the TN-1 to green card process. The TN-1 is a non immigrant work permit, which means that you are not supposed to get it if you have immigrant intent. However, if you change your mind after you get the TN-1, you may file for adjustment of status to get a green card.
For example, say someone obtains a TN-1 work permit intending to work in the US for 2 years before going back to Canada. After a year, he encounters the love of his life and wants to become a permanent resident. Stuff like this happens and is allowed.
However, say someone obtains a TN-1 work permit intending to reside permanently in the United States. This is NOT allowed, and NOT legal! Do NOT do this!
When you obtain your TN-1 work permit, which is a non-immigrant work permit, you must not have immigrant intent. The TN-1 work permit is intended for temporary purposes.
Life however can change… I didn’t know I’d meet a very special girl in the United States after moving there 😉
TN-1 to H1-B
The recommended way and the safe way of getting your green card / permanent residency is to go from TN-1 work permit to H1-B status. The H1-B classification is a dual-intent classification
Dual intent means that you can have either immigrant or non-immigrant intentions. That means that you can obtain the H1-B status with intent to immigrate afterwards. While TN-1, which is a non-immigrant intent status, requires you to have no immigrant intent to obtain it.
Once you obtain your H1-B status, the path from H1-B to Permanent Residency is very common and well written about online. It just takes time for your priority date to become current and for the government to process the paperwork.
By having a H1-B visa first, you are safer. Since H1-B visa is dual-intent, there is less question about your immigration intent since the H1-B allows for it.
If you are let go from your job after you’ve shown immigrant intent, you can not apply for another TN-1 visa. So you’re effectively locked out of the country. If you have a H1-B visa, you can port it to another employer.
There is a lot of demand for H1-B visas and limited supply. Therefore it works on a lottery basis. If you are lucky, you may get it in your first year. If you are not, it could be many years before you get it.
TN-1 to Green Card Directly
This is a faster way of getting permanent residency. Note that when you obtain your TN-1 status, you must not have immigrant intent. Please be aware and follow all legal requirements and laws. We support following the law here, not just because there are severe consequences if you don’t but also because it’s the right thing to do.
The main reason why some people go from TN-1 status to green card directly is because of speed. The H1-B is a lottery since there are typically many more applicants than the cap (limited supply available per year). Depending on your luck it may take several years to get a H1-B status.
Note that once you file i485, application to adjust status for permanent residency, you have shown immigrant intent. Once you have immigrant intent, it is likely you may never apply for another non-immigrant visa. After all, if you’re applying for permanent residency, it’s hard to demonstrate to the government that you want another non-immigrant visa that requires you to have no immigrant intent.
Another risk is that if the government thinks you had immigrant intent when you first applied for the TN-1 visa, you may get into legal trouble for misrepresenting your situation. Please consult a lawyer, since the risks can be quite severe.
Note: This is based on my research and experiences. It is not intended to be legal advice. Please consult a legal professional to be sure.