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A Valid Visa Does Not Guarantee Entry to the US

U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers are authorized to conduct random checks and interview arriving passengers all of whom should have valid visas. If the answers to the questions are not be consistent with those given during the visa interview, that could spell trouble.

Crispin ArandaOriginally posted on August 15, 2016; updated August 20, 2016

A Valid Visa Does Not Guarantee Entry to the US

From Consular Post to Port of Entry

After a positive interview at a U.S. Embassy or consulate and receipt of your visa, you are now ready to go.

Remember, your visa is a legal document that allows you to present yourself to a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer at a Port of Entry (POE).

There is at least one port of entry for every 50 states (mainland and Hawaii) in the U.S. Your port of entry will be determined by what airline you have chosen, the route you have selected.

After take-off and usually before arrival at a U.S. POE, the flight attendants announce procedures at the port of entry such as having your passport ready and the fact that paper form I-94 (Arrival and Departure documents) are no longer issued.

The CBP website states that “Foreign visitors to the U.S. arriving via air or sea no longer need to complete paper Customs and Border Protection Form I-94 Arrival/Departure Record or Form I-94W Nonimmigrant Visa Waiver Arrival/Departure Record. Those who need to prove their legal-visitor status—to employers, schools/universities or government agencies—can access their CBP arrival/departure record information online.”

At the POE, CBP Officers inspect everyone seeking entry in the United States to determine admissibility and includes preinspection procedures that may be performed by Immigration Inspectors outside the United States.

The United States in 2015, began negotiating with various countries to "expand air preclearance operations to new locations."  There are currently six countries that have benefitted from this arrangement in addition to a pre-inspection facility for ferry traffic to and from the USA and Victoria, Canada.

If you have concerns about your admissibility before you travel, the Customs and Border Protection recommends that you seek legal counsel prior to traveling as dispensing legal advice is not one of the mandates of CBP.

Random Interview and Inspection

CBP Officers routinely conducts interview of arriving passengers. Part of their mandate is to prevent entry of "ineligible aliens including criminals, terrorists and drug traffickers." 

The Code of Federal Regulations are specific in that aliens who wish to enter the United States lawfully, must establish admissibility during processes known as primary inspection and if necessary, secondary inspection to a CBP Officer.  US Citizens are automatically admitted once their citizenship is verified, aliens are questioned.  After all, aliens are presumed to be an immigrant UNLESS you can prove that you fit one of the nonimmigrant categories: work; student; tourist; exchange visitor and so forth.

After disembarking, you will go through the tube and designated pathways toward the immigration counters, the primary inspection process.  If you are entering the United States at a land border port of entry, for example in Niagara, primary inspection will involve initial questioning in the vehicle lane or booth, a review of the identification and travel documents of all individuals in the vehicle.

Whether you are arriving by plane or vehicle or ferry, you should know that CBP Officers are authorized to question under oath, any person entering the United States and can conduct a search without a warrant when the situation merits it.  CBP Officers look at body language, facial expressions, and other peculiar behavior can get you selected for random questioning.

Many believe that the CBP Officers target people who look disreputable or suspicious.  However, don't be offended when you are asked questions while you are queued.  Everyone is subject to CBP inspection upon arrival in the United States!  Some big seizures have been from people who look respectable such as corporate executives, college professors and even, grandmothers.

If you don't get selected for a random interview or if you do pass this interview, you proceed to the primary inspection counter.   A CBP officer will ask you questions to determine your reason for requesting to be admitted; determine the documents required for you to enter and whether you have the required documents; the length of your stay in the United States and; whether you are admissible or inadmissible.

Secondary Inspection

Answers to questions posed by a CBP Officer that deviate from those that were recorded during your interview or are so far off from the norm  could still lead to a secondary inspection.  Not having the required documents or having documents that should not be on your person may also lead a CBP Officer believe that there are sufficient grounds to open and inspect your luggage for prohibited items.  If you are in a vehicle, your vehicle may be examined thoroughly.  You may also be subjected to a personal search.  

Such extended examination during a secondary inspection will also include specific questions about your travel and immigration history and may result in the discovery of undisclosed purposes of the visit or hidden agenda.  And, CBP Officers may implement a CBP records system and Internet search about you.

A CBP Officer may also deem an individual inadmissible under public health grounds.  If this happens to you, you may be referred to a panel physician for an evaluation before presenting yourself for admission again.  Once the a panel physician notifies the CBP Officer of the results of your evaluation, the officer can then make an "admissibility determination."  The evaluation is valid for only one year though. Therefore, if you return after that period and exhibit similar symptoms, a new examination may be required.

If a CBP Officer deems you to be inadmissible, you might be placed into removal proceedings.  An officer may also allow you to withdraw your application for admission.  If this happens, any future admissibility may be affected negatively and your visa might be cancelled.  Whether you are turned away, issued an order of Expedited Removal or issued a Notice to Appear, you are NOT protected by the U.S. Constitution during an inspection at any border.  The Constitution only applies to individuals within the United States or specifically, those who are physically present.

Deferred Inspection

In rare instances though, a CBP Officer may not be able to immediately decide on the admissibility of an arriving alien at the POE.  In this situation, you may be scheduled for a deferred inspection at a future date.  You will have to personally appear on the specified date and office and present the documents or information required from you. With a deferred inspection, you will be allowed to proceed into the U.S. but if you fail to be at the inspection site as instructed, you may face removal from the country.

For more official and updated info on “Admission into the US” click the CBP link below and save yourself the trouble, expenses, head and heartaches of being excluded, not allowed entry into the U.S. or worse, being permanently barred from visiting or residing permanently in the U.S. despite having an approved family or employer petition.  >>> CLICK HERE

Authors & Contributors

Crispin Aranda

Crispin Aranda

Crispin R. Aranda is an established International Visa Conselor and Immigrant Advocate. He is the president of IVC and is in several migration radio programs.

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