What is the TN Visa Program?

Labor shortages have affected the agricultural sector for many decades. In regions of the country like the South, the reduction in the farm labor supply is a major problem as many labor-intensive commodities are produced across several states. The decline in the availability of workers is in part due to the lack of interest by American-born laborers to engage in field work that is very physically demanding. For this and other reasons, foreign workers have historically been overrepresented in the agricultural sector. In recent years, the H-2A program, which allows U.S. farmers to hire foreign farmworkers legally, has experienced rapid growth (Gutierrez-Li, 2021). The undocumented and H-2A agricultural workers fill the need for manual labor. These employees perform a variety of tasks like planting, weeding, sorting, packing, applying pesticides, and, most importantly, harvesting. While most of the hired labor on farms engages in manual work, highly specialized workers are also needed to perform tasks that demand more training and often college education. In recent years, agricultural employers have also started facing difficulties recruiting highly educated workers, in the context of tight labor markets and new opportunities for college graduates in sectors like data science and engineering.

When American farmers cannot hire the number of workers they need from the domestic workforce, they turn to foreign workers. In the case of manual labor, they rely on the H-2A program. The option to hire highly skilled foreign workers in agriculture is the TN visa program.  The TN visa system was created in 1994 as chapter 16 of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) between the United States, Canada, and Mexico. In 2020, the program was grandfathered into the USMCA, the replacement of NAFTA. This visa avenue allows citizens of Mexico and Canada to work temporarily in the United States. The program focuses on highly skilled professionals whose area of expertise covers around 60 occupations. 

The benefits of the TN visa system are many. Like the H-2A visa program, there is no cap on the number of TN visas that can be issued every year. Visas can be renewed indefinitely, but holders cannot apply for permanent residency. Canadian citizens only need to show a job offer at a port of entry to obtain a TN visa, while Mexican citizens must apply first at a U.S. consulate. Unlike other visas, the TN visa does not require a labor certification (LC). LC is a lengthy process in which employers must show that they were unable to find qualified U.S. workers to fill the position they are requesting. Moreover, the TN visa allows farmers to file for premium processing, an option that guarantees their petition will be resolved by USCIS (an immigration authority) in 15 days or less for an additional fee. Lastly, TN visas are less likely to be denied than other visas like H-2B or H-2A and allow holders to bring their dependents (spouse and children under the age of 21) through TD visas (TN dependent). On the other hand, some limitations of the TN visa program are that it does not cover all occupations that farmers may want to hire and that it is limited to Canada and Mexico, leaving out specialized talent from other countries.

The TN visa program was not designed specifically for the agricultural sector. However, among the list of occupations that qualify for workers, there are several professions that directly relate to agriculture (Table 1). Some include veterinarians, animal scientists, animal breeders, agriculturists (including agronomists and food scientists), apiculturists, dairy scientists, entomologists, biologists, soil scientists, zoologists, plant breeders, horticulturists, and poultry scientists. In addition, some bigger farm operators hire economists, engineers, silviculturists, lawyers, and other technicians who can also be brought under TN visas. The main requirement is for individuals to have at least a bachelor’s degree in their field. For example, dairy farmers in the U.S. hire veterinarians with TN visas that help support American veterinarians on tasks like preparing animal health reports, examining herds, vaccinations, artificial inseminations, and birthing. Moreover, TN visa holders from Mexico can interact with H-2A workers (in Spanish), facilitating communication between all workers. 

In summary, while most of the news on labor shortages in agriculture relate to field workers and the expansion of the H-2A visa program, the reality is that finding workers across the spectrum of skills is proving more difficult for American farmers. Highly specialized workers are becoming harder to recruit as lucrative careers in other sectors are luring college graduates away from agriculture. In this context, the TN visa appears as a viable (albeit less-known) option for U.S. agricultural employers to obtain dependable workers and continue to expand their operations.

Table 1. Occupations Allowed Under the TN Visa System

General ProfessionalsMedical/Allied ProfessionalsScientist Professionals
AccountantNutritionistAnimal breeder
ArchitectOccupational therapistAnimal scientist
Computer Systems AnalystMedical laboratory technologistAstronomer
LibrarianRecreational therapistApiculturist
Industrial designerDietitianBiologist
Landscape ArchitectDentistChemist
Hotel managerPhysiotherapist/ physical therapist Dairy scientist
ForesterRegistered nurseEntomologist
Disaster relief insurance claims adjusterPsychologistEpidemiologist
Graphic designerGeneticist
Research assistantGeophysicist
Interior designerHorticulturist
Land surveyorMeteorologist
Range manager/ Range conservationistPhysicist
Social workerPharmacologist
Teacher / College or UniversityPoultry scientist
SilviculturistPlant Breeder
Technical publications writerSoil scientist
Scientific technician/ technologistZoologist
Teacher / Seminary
Urban planner
Vocational counselor  


Gutierrez-Li, A. (2021). The H-2A visa program: addressing farm labor scarcity in North

Carolina. NC State Economist. North Carolina State University.

Payan, T. & Rodriguez-Sanchez, J. (2023). Revamping the TN Visa to get workers where the US needs them. Center for the U.S. and Mexico. Research paper.

Gutierrez-Li, Alejandro. “What is the TN Visa Program?Southern Ag Today 4(7.3). February 14, 2024. Permalink