Steps How To Transfer From TN Visa To Green Card

Glen D. Wasserstein, Managing Partner of ILG, specializes in immigration law, focusing on E-2 Investor Visas, L-1 visas, H-1B visas, and federal litigation. With a background in international relations, he founded ILG in 1996 and has addressed human trafficking at the United Nations Convention on Crime.

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The TN visa enables Canadian or Mexican citizens with the right qualifications to work in specific occupations for U.S. employers. Established under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the TN visa offers a valuable pathway to temporary employment in the United States. Having set out on this path, many TN visa holders eventually seek a more permanent solution.

This guide explores the process of transitioning from a TN visa to a green card, also known as a Permanent Resident Card. A green card grants numerous benefits unavailable with a TN visa, including the ability to live and work permanently in the U.S., sponsor family members for immigration, and eventually apply for citizenship.

Benefits of a Green Card over a TN Visa

The TN visa offers a great opportunity for temporary work in the U.S., but a green card unlocks a wider range of possibilities. Here’s how a green card surpasses a TN visa:

  • Path to Citizenship: Unlike the TN visa, a green card puts you on the path to becoming a U.S. citizen. This allows you to vote in elections, hold certain government jobs, and enjoy the full rights and privileges of citizenship.
  • Family Sponsorship: With a green card, you can sponsor your spouse and unmarried children (under 21) for permanent residency, transitioning them from TD visa status to permanent resident status, allowing them to live and work in the U.S. legally. TN visas don’t offer this benefit.
  • Travel Freedom: Green card holders can travel freely outside the U.S. without jeopardizing their residency status. TN visa holders, however, may face limitations on re-entry if they stay outside the U.S. for extended periods.

Challenges of Transitioning from TN Visa to Green Card

While the benefits of a green card are significant, the transition process from a TN visa can present some challenges. Here are two key hurdles to be aware of:

  • Dual Intent Restrictions:The TN visa is a nonimmigrant visa, meaning you cannot initially enter the U.S. with immigrant intent. This concept is known as “dual intent.” While you can certainly change your mind later, maintaining your TN status requires demonstrating bona fide nonimmigrant intent, showing that your stay in the U.S. is temporary.
  • 90-Day Rule:There’s a regulation known as the “90-day rule” that applies to individuals who leave the U.S. after accruing unlawful presence. If you spend more than 90 days outside the U.S. while in unlawful presence, you may face difficulty re-entering or obtaining a green card. This can be a concern for TN visa holders who need to travel frequently for work or personal reasons.

Guide to Changing from a TN Visa to Green Card

The path from TN visa to green card requires careful planning and adherence to specific procedures. Here’s a breakdown of the key steps involved:

A. Eligibility

The first step is to ensure you meet the basic eligibility requirements for a green card. These typically include having a qualifying job offer in the U.S. and meeting the specific education and experience requirements for the occupation.

B. Employment

Securing sponsorship from a U.S. employer is crucial. Your employer will file an I-140 Immigration Petition on your behalf, demonstrating your qualifications and the need for your position.

C. I-140 Immigration Petition

This is a crucial document filed by your employer with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). It petitions for your classification as a qualified worker and establishes your eligibility for permanent residency based on your occupation. The I-140 petition approval creates a priority date, which determines your place in line for a green card visa.

D. Priority Date

The priority date is the date USCIS receives your approved I-140 petition. It acts as a queue marker, indicating when you became eligible for a green card visa. Visa availability for different green card categories is limited, and processing times can vary depending on the category and your priority date.

E. Apply to Adjust Status (Adjustment of Status)

Once your priority date becomes current (meaning a visa becomes available in your category), you can file Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status to begin immigrant visa processing. This application formally requests USCIS to adjust your immigration status from TN visa holder to permanent resident.

F. Undergo Checks

Immigration officials at USCIS will conduct security and background checks on all green card applicants. These checks may involve fingerprinting, biometrics, and verification of your application details.

G. Wait for Approval

The time it takes to process green card applications can differ based on the specific category and the current workload of USCIS.

Once USCIS receives all your documentation and completes the checks, they will issue a decision on your application.

Other Options for Changing TN Visa Status

While the previous section outlined the traditional employment-based route from a TN visa to a green card, there are alternative paths to consider:

Transitioning to a Dual-Intent Visa

Remember the “dual intent” restriction of the TN visa? Certain visa categories, like the L-1 Intracompany Transfer visa or the H-1B visa, allow for dual intent. This means you can enter the U.S. with the eventual goal of obtaining permanent residency. If you qualify for one of these visas and secure employer sponsorship, you can then pursue a green card through the employment-based process without violating the TN visa’s dual intent limitations.

Family-Based Immigration

Lawful permanent residents or individuals married to a U.S. citizen may qualify for a green card. Family-based immigration is an option that removes the need for employer sponsorship and allows you to pursue permanent residency based on your relationship.

Consular Processing

In some situations, TN visa holders may choose to apply for a green card from their home country through a process called consular processing. This option typically involves returning to Canada or Mexico to attend an interview at a U.S. consulate or embassy. However, it’s important to consult with an immigration attorney to determine if consular processing is the right path for you, as maintaining your TN visa status while pursuing a green card through this method can be complex.


Transitioning from a TN visa to a green card can unlock a path to permanent residency in the U.S. While the process involves navigating eligibility requirements, employer sponsorship, and potential waiting times, the benefits of a green card are significant. This guide has provided a roadmap for the traditional employment-based route and highlighted alternative options like transitioning to a dual-intent visa or pursuing family-based immigration. (You can also learn to know how to change employer for TN visa or
how to renew TN visa today.

Remember, immigration laws can be intricate, and the best course of action may vary depending on your individual circumstances. Consulting with a qualified TN visa attorney is highly recommended to ensure a smooth and successful transition from your TN visa to permanent residency status. For those in the Washington, D.C. and New Orleans area, consider reaching out to immigration lawyers in DC and immigration attorneys in New Orleans for expert guidance and support.