What are the Free Trade Visas?

Certain non-immigrant statuses are available for citizens of specific countries (namely Canada, Mexico, Australia, Chile, and Singapore) under free trade agreements with the United States and those countries. The Free Trade Visas can be a viable option when timing is tight or when it is not possible to file an H-1B in time. However, note that not everyone that qualifies for an H-1B is eligible for a Free Trade Visa.

TN Status Work Visa for Canadians and Mexicans

The TN status was developed as part of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), to facilitate the entry of Canadian and Mexican citizens into the United States to engage in professional business activities on a temporary basis. Only occupations listed in the NAFTA agreement are eligible for TN status. Occupations used at Washington University include biologist, university teacher, and research assistant, among others.

An application for TN status can be made by the employee at the port of entry, or the employer can file an application with USCIS. The application can be made for a period of up to three years at a time, for either the initial period or extensions to a TN. There is no limit on the number of extensions allowed, but the employee still needs to show non-immigrant intent.

A department interested in bringing a TN employee from outside the U.S. should contact OISS for a template of the TN letter, which the employee will need at the port of entry. Departments wishing to extend TN status should work with the OISS to file an application with USCIS, or the employee can make a new entry as a TN at the port of entry.

TNs are eligible to bring in spouses and children under 21 as dependents in TD status. Those in TD status are not eligible to work in the US.

E-3 Work Visa for Australians

The E-3 status allows aliens who are nationals of the Commonwealth of Australia to come to the United States to perform services in a specialty occupation under the Australia-United States Free Trade Agreement (AUSFTA). The E-3 is similar to the H-1B in that, an employer must file an LCA with the Department of Labor; and the position and employee must meet the requirements for the specialty occupation.

The first application for E-3 status can be for a maximum of 2 years; then unlimited 2-year extensions are allowed. The E-3 employee should intend to depart the United States upon the expiration of E status. An application for initial admission, change of status or extension of stay in E-3 classification, however, may not be denied solely on the basis of an approved request for permanent labor certification or a filed or approved immigrant visa preference petition.

A department interested in bringing an E-3 employee from outside the US should contact OISS. After OISS files an LCA, the employee will need to apply for an E-3 visa at the US consulate in Australia. OISS can file an application for an extension of E-3 status with USCIS, or the E-3 can travel back to Australia to obtain another E-3.

An E-3 may be accompanied by a spouse and/or children under 21 as dependents. The dependents of an E-3 are also classified as E-3s. The E-3 dependent spouse may apply for work authorization, but E-3 dependents who are children are not eligible for work authorization.

H-1B1 for Chile and Singapore

A special H-1B1 non-immigrant category provides a certain number of H-1B visas annually for Chileans and Singaporeans, under the United States-Chile Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act and the United States-Singapore Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act. Like other H-1B applications, the position and employee must meet the requirements for the specialty occupation.

H-1B1s from Chile and Singapore may be admitted initially for a maximum of one-year, and they may extend their H-1B1 stay an indefinite number of times, in one-year increments. However, the employee must show non-immigrant intent.

Generally, it is not necessary for Washington University to file the special H-1B1 for Chileans and Singaporeans, because universities are not subject to the H-1B cap. Instead, Washington University can file a regular H-1B application to request up to 3 years. However, in some instances, a department wants to hire someone who is on an H-B1 for another employer and wants to file a concurrent H application for the H-1B1. Because someone may only hold one visa classification at a time, the H-1B1 must be filed in this situation, rather than the regular H-1B.