Your First Moments in America: What to Expect at U.S. Ports of Entry

According to the US Customs and Border Protection website, nearly one million people enter the US every day. Each individual is subject to inspection by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers. If you’ve never been to the US before or it’s been a number of years since your last visit, you’re probably wondering what to expect.

Steps Upon Arrival

Anyone seeking to legally enter the US must prove their admissibility to a CBP officer at the port of entry. Be prepared to present the following:

  • A passport valid for at least six months beyond your date of entry
  • A valid visa that indicates your reason for coming to the US, such as a visitor or employment visa
  • Any appropriate immigration documents, such as I-797B for H-1B visa holders or Form I-20 for certain student categories

As part of the inspection process, the officer will ask you some questions to confirm that your answers match the information on your documentation. Common questions include:

  • The purpose of your visit to the US
  • How long you plan to stay 
  • Where you will be staying
  • How much money you are bringing (This question has two purposes: to confirm that you can support yourself financially during your stay and that you declare amounts $10,000 and over)

All non-US citizens must be photographed and fingerprinted under the Office of Biometric Identity Management program, which helps authorities identify people and determine whether or not they pose a risk. This program was created in March 2013, so if you haven’t been to the US since then, be aware of this extra step. Your name and fingerprints will be run through identification databases to check for any information that may be a cause for concern.

You may also be subjected to a search of your luggage and personal possessions (including your cell phone), so make sure that you don’t bring anything that belies your visa conditions. If you’re coming on a visitor visa but your text messages talk about moving to Los Angeles or New York, you could be denied entry, and your visa may be canceled.

If all goes well, the officer will stamp your passport indicating that you are admitted for an applicable duration. If you are a tourist, this could be up to six months while a work visa, such as the H1B, can entitle you to stay up to three years. 

Secondary Inspections

If the CBP officer can’t confirm all of your information, important documentation is missing, or they have other concerns, you may have to undergo a secondary inspection in an interview area. 

Secondary inspections are not uncommon: approximately ten million travelers are subjected to them every year. They also don’t have to end poorly for you. For example, if you are coming to attend school and CBP can’t verify your admission eligibility in secondary inspection, you may receive a Form I-515A, which allows you to enter the U.S. temporarily to correct any document deficiencies.

If you are deemed inadmissible for any reason, you could be placed in removal proceedings or expeditedly removed, unless the officer allows you to withdraw your application for admission. If you have a health issue, a criminal record, record of overstaying a visa, or any other condition that could affect your admissibility to the US, working with an immigration law firm prior to your departure can improve your chances of approval.

Contact an Experienced Immigration Attorney

Working with knowledgeable and experienced immigration attorneys can help you overcome any admissibility issues and obtain the status you need to visit or remain in the US. At Sánchez-Roig Law Firm, P.A., we will analyze your situation and determine how we can assist you in gaining entrance to work, study, or reunite with loved ones. For more information or to schedule a consultation, call 305-373-5385 today.