Clearit.ca's Blog on Customs Brokerage and News Updates
Since September, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has been offering more efficient “optimized processing” of applications for TN and L-1 status from Canadian citizens at ten designated ports of entry and four preclearance facilities in Canada. But while that’s likely to mean reduced delays at the border, it’s not entirely clear that this approach is actually the best option for those seeking to obtain TN or L-1 status.
Canadians (or Mexicans) working in certain designated professions are eligible for TN (Trade NAFTA) status. L-1 applies to intracompany transferees; L-1A status may be granted to executives or managers and L-1B to specialized knowledge employees. All of them typically allow a maximum initial stay of three years.
Unlike Mexicans, Canadian citizens can apply for the status at the border instead of submitting a visa petition to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) beforehand. They can, however, apply in advance if they wish. This situation creates a rather confusing array of choices for Canadian applicants. Should they go through USCIS or CBP? If CBP, at which port of entry?
For TN applicants, the answer to the USCIS/CBP question is something of a tossup. Using USCIS is more expensive and takes longer, but the agency is known to be fair in adjudicating such petitions, and the individual will have the comfort of knowing his status for certain before he travels. The USCIS route is generally not recommended for anyone looking to get L-1 status, because USCIS is noticeably stingier than CBP in granting it.
Similarly, some ports of entry have a much better track record of approving TN/L-1 applications than others. Applications may be submitted at any port of entry, not just those designated for “optimized processing”. And although processing will be faster at the designated locations, there’s nothing to suggest that approval will be more likely – or even more predictable – there, especially since some of the facilities on the list have been problematic in the past.
It’s unknown, for example, whether each of the designated ports of entry will once again employ a Free Trade Officer dedicated to handling applications for TN and L-1 status. If not, it may be quite difficult for applicants to know what to expect at any given port of entry.
This being the case, applicants cannot merely show up at one of the fourteen “optimized” locations and assume everything will go smoothly. The best course is probably to seek counsel from an immigration professional with up-to-date knowledge of adjudication procedures at various ports of entry who can how – and where – to submit a TN/L-1 application with the highest chance of success.
Designated Preclearance Facilities
- Lester B. Pearson International Airport
- Trudeau International Airport
- Vancouver International Airport
- Calgary International Airport
Designated Ports of Entry
- Highgate Springs (Vermont)
- Derby Line (Vermont)
- Alexandria Bay (New York)
- Peace Bridge (New York)
- Rainbow Bridge (New York)
- Champlain (New York)
- Detroit Canada Tunnel (Michigan)
- Detroit Ambassador Bridge (Michigan)
- Blaine Peace Arch (Washington)
- Sweetgrass (Montana)