All arriving travelers are subject to inspection by a CBP officer prior to entering the United States. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is responsible for conducting immigration inspections at America’s 329 Ports of Entry with the goal of excluding those that are not eligible for entry, while ensuring the entry of lawful travelers. With the recent terrorist attacks and the increased focus on maintaining security during immigration screening, there are more concerns than ever about making sure that only eligible nonimmigrants enter the U.S. As a result, it is particularly important for travelers to know what to do at the airport when they arrive and speak with CBP personnel.
The two key points to remember are:
- Don’t withhold information. It’s important to be truthful and disclose information asked of you and fill out customs declaration forms accurately. The consequences can be severe.
- Do be prepared to present your documents for the inspection process. You must have all necessary documents and make sure they are with you and not in your checked luggage. Documents you should have include:
- Business visitors with B-1 visas. Copy of ESTA confirmation page, return airline ticket information with a fixed return date, and your employer’s letter indicating that you are traveling for business with a detailed itinerary, contracts, invitation letters, agendas, business plans, payment and payroll records, and other relevant documents related to your visit. (See Do’s and Don’ts for business visitors to the US)
- Copy of ESTA confirmation page, your itinerary, (where you are going and where you are staying) and return airline ticket information with a fixed return date.
- Petition-based work visa-holders (H, L, O, P, R). A copy of your approval notice (Form I-797) and employment verification letter from your employer confirming your employment.
- Students with F-visas (academic and language students) or M-visas (vocational students). Your Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status (Form I-20) endorsed by the ISO.
- For work- and study-based exchange visitors with J-Visas. Your Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor (J-1) Status (Form DS-2019). The form identifies you and your designated sponsor and provides a brief description of the exchange program, including the start and end date, category of exchange, and an estimate of the cost of the exchange program.
Travelers should be prepared at the airport whether coming to the U.S. for the first time or returning from a visit abroad.
Travelers should also keep in mind that if a CBP officer at the port of entry cannot verify a traveler’s information, or if a traveler does not have all of his or her required documentation, that person may be directed to an interview area known as “secondary inspection.” Secondary inspection allows CBP officers to conduct additional research in order to verify information, and may take up to several hours to complete. Foreign nationals’ belongings may be searched, and they may be asked to provide additional documentation to confirm their identity and the purpose of their travel to the U.S. Travelers should understand that additional screening might be triggered for reasons other than information in law enforcement databases, such as the circumstances of one’s travel or random selection. The great majority of travelers inspected at Ports of Entry are determined to be eligible for admission. According to a report by the Congressional Research Service dated January 2015, only 5 out of 10,000 people arriving at a POE are denied admission.
Furthermore, new restrictions on the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) eligibility are now in place. Effective December 18, 2015, individuals who have been present in Iraq, Syria, Iran, or Sudan (or other countries designated by DHS as supporting terrorism) at any time on or after March 1, 2011, are not eligible to participate in the VWP. The new law also excludes from the VWP individuals who are nationals of Iraq, Syria, Iran, or Sudan, even if they have a passport issued by a VWP country.
If you have problems at the border or anticipate an issue, please contact us for help.