A visa holder next seeks to enter the U.S. while the visa is valid (or someone exempt from visa requirements simply seeks to enter). This occurs either at a pre-flight inspection unit at an airport abroad (i.e., Canada, U.K.), at the first airport in the U.S., or at a land border point. Of course, it is unlawful to physically enter the U.S. without being inspected. The person submits documents showing admissibility: usually a passport containing a nonimmigrant visa, a border crossing card (now often called a “laser visa”), or a passport demonstrating citizenship of a country exempt from visa requirements. U.S. permanent residents and citizens present different documents. Some frequent travelers may obtain “PortPASS” or “INSPASS” documents for streamlined inspection.

Most aliens partially complete and receive from the immigration inspector a white “I-94” or green “I-94W” departure card (not to be confused with a “green card”!) reflecting the visa classification, the date of required departure, and an 11-digit assigned number. The period of stay authorized on the I-94 card is not dependent on, and often can exceed, the expiration date of the visa. Canadian citizen tourists normally receive no document. Often I-94 cards contain errors, so travelers should carefull inspect the card BEFORE walking away from the inspector. After that, corrections can be requested at a CBP “deferred inspection” site, where replacement for a lost I-94 might also be requested (CBP might suggest instead filing Form I-102 with USCIS).

Some applicants for entry are placed in “secondary inspection,” where a more thorough examination can take place after all routine inspections are completed for the arriving vessel. Persons arriving with an “advance parole” travel document, re-entry permit, or an I-551 stamp (as opposed to the actual permanent resident card) are routinely placed in secondary inspection for a more thorough review of their travel documentation. Others, such as those who have been arrested before or those who are subject to “special registration,” are also more likely to be sent through secondary inspection. Such persons should consult with an attorney before they travel so that they can be prepared for this process. An attorney normally cannot participate in the inspection itself, but an attorney can consult with the applicant.

Applicants should be aware that DHS has been making meaningful improvements in the ability of immigration inspectors to view records of the applicant, including lookout lists, criminal records, past interviews, and even visa applications, documents submitted with visa applications, and consular database notes. The prospect of permanent inadmissibility from a finding of misrepresentation should strongly reinforce the general rule that “honesty is the best policy.”

If the person lacks proper documents or is found to have made a misrepresentation in seeking entry, the inspector can send the person back without a hearing under a process called “expedited removal.” The possibility of a 5 year or even permanent bar on reentry arising from a border encounter without the protection of a hearing should encourage people to make sure they have their papers squarely in order before seeking U.S. entry. Any person with a complex or uncertain U.S. immigration history should consult counsel before making the trip. Fraudulent efforts can also result in vehicle seizure at land borders. Normally there is no formal appeal from an expedited removal order, but counsel can sometimes convince the officials to withdraw such an order by proving it was improperly or unnecessarily issued. A similar summary removal can be imposed on certain crewmen, stowaways, and suspected terrorists. Visa Waiver Program participants can be sent back without a hearing but without bar on reentry.

If the person is found otherwise inadmissible, the inspector has many options, depending in part on where the inspection occurs. The inspector may decide the person is eligible for a waiver of the ground of inadmissibility and admit him. At a land border point, the alien normally is refused physical entry and scheduled for a hearing before an Immigration Court at the border. At other ports, the alien may be taken into custody and detained pending a hearing before an immigration court. In some cases, the inspector may allow the alien to withdraw his application for admission (avoiding the prospect of a 5 year bar on re-entry) or may “parole” the alien into the U.S. for further inspection at a CBP “deferred inspection” site or for a hearing to take place at an Immigration Court near the port or near the person’s destination in the U.S.

In most cases involving an unfortunate result, the inspector generates some paperwork for the person’s “alien file,” and in most cases some papers are served on the alien. These papers should be carefully retained for an immigration attorney’s review. Often the inspector takes a statement from the applicant and asks the applicant to sign it. The applicant should carefully consider such a request and should seriously consider attempting to consult counsel, at least by telephone, before engaging in an interview or signing a transcript.

In almost any situation, an inadmissible applicant may express a desire to seek asylum in the U.S. and obtain at least a cursory “credible fear” interview with a USCIS Asylum Officer. If credible fear is found (and almost always is found unless the applicant insists he has no fear of return), the applicant usually is held in jail-like detention pending a hearing before an Immigration Court. If the applicant can establish his identity (often difficult for someone who used false documents to arrive in the U.S.), the absence of a danger to the community, and a likelihood of appearing at his hearing, he may be released on “parole” pending the court hearing. The conditions of detention, the frequency of parole, and the receptivity of the judge to asylum claims vary among the different ports of entry to the U.S.

An “arriving alien” who is ordered removed normally is returned to the country he came from at the expense of the carrier that brought him. The carrier often pays a fine to DHS for having brought an admissible alien, which explains why carriers are increasingly careful about screening travelers before the embark on transportation to the U.S.

Nationals from a designated list of countries, along with other people individually selected by immigration inspectors, must now comply with “special registration” procedures during inspection. This is also referred to as “NSEERS.” Those countries include Iran, Iraq, Libya, Sudan, Syria, Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Eritrea, Lebanon, Morocco, North Korea, Oman, Qatar, Somalia, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, Yemen, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Jordan, and Kuwait. The regulations require nonimmigrant nationals of these countries to provide notifications to immigration authorities of changes of address, employment, or school (to the extent not reflected in a SEVIS entry by the school) on form AR-11SR. Initial requirements for thirty-day and one-year personal appearances at local immigration offices have been eliminated, but individuals still may be required to appear as instructed. Special registrants are required to report in person to an immigration officer at one among a limited list of designated ports when departing the U.S. For those registered during inspection, a package of detailed information about compliance is provided and should be carefully reviewed, and this package includes the designated ports for departure that all registrants must use.

How We Can Help

We assist clients in evaluating and comparing the seemingly innumerable visa classifications for which they might be qualified, whether a visa will be required (and if not required whether it should be obtained anyway), where and how to apply, and how best to accomplish entry. We advise clients about inadmissibility grounds that may apply and assist in waiver applications and appeals from denials of them. We assist clients in seeking review of visa denials and refusal of admission. We represent clients in deferred inspection and in immigration court removal proceedings. We help clients seek remedies even when they have been removed at the border without a hearing. We help clients maintain their status and extend and change it to meet new goals. We also plan and take appropriate steps toward permanent residence, coordinating such plans and steps with the temporary status.

Consult with us for assistance with a case.


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