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Immigration Inspection At A U.S. Port-Of-Entry: Things You Must Know
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If you are traveling to the United States for the first time you are likely to have questions about what happens when I arrive at the Port-of-Entry?

A foreign national traveling to the United States will arrive initially at a U.S. “Port-of-Entry" (POE). The POE can be an airport, a land border crossing, or a seaport. Passing through a Port-of-Entry generally means that you are seeking permission from an Immigration Inspector, an official of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), to enter the U.S. for a specific reason, purpose and duration, which are generally always predefined.

All foreign nationals arriving at a US POE are inspected by officials of the US Government. They have to go through four different inspections:
  • Public Health,
  • Immigration,
  • Customs, and
  • Agriculture.
Some or all of these inspections may be conducted by the same officer.

Inspection at a U.S. Port-of-Entry: What do CBP officials do?
  • Upon your arrival at the U.S. Port-of-Entry you must present your passport and other required documents. CBP officers will review these to determine whether to allow you to enter the U.S.

  • Your first encounter with CBP officers will be at a primary inspection station where they ask foreign nationals questions to determine their identity and nationality.

  • If they decide to admit you the CBP officer will also determine how long you will be allowed to stay in the US, and in what status you will be admitted.

  • At the U.S. Port-of-Entry CBP officers review passports, visas, and other supporting documents of each and every foreign national arriving in U.S. The CBP officers also compare fingerprint records and name check databases for recent derogatory information, ask questions about the foreign nationals general qualifications for the visas they have, review the Form I-94 Arrival and Departure Record (or, for Visa Waiver travelers, Form I-94W).
What Kind of questions do the CBP officers ask?

CBP officers at U.S. Port-of-Entry will ask you questions to determine the true intent of your trip to the US. Inspections Officers are trained, and have the experience to back up their training, to indentify if a foreign national has a pre-conceived intent behind their trip to the US, i.e., they are looking to see if you are actually coming to go to school or for a job interview when you say you are coming to visit Disneyland. If an officer is not convinced with your initial statements, they may ask for additional supporting documentation be allowing you to enter the US.

CBP officials – their power and authority – what they can do?

CBP officers conducting the inspection at a U.S. Port-of-Entry have complete power and authority and it is up to their discretion to conclude whether or not a foreign national is eligible to enter the U.S. It is only after a CBP officer stamps and dates the I-94 form, places an admission stamp in the foreign national's passport, and the foreign national passes through the inspection station that the foreign national is admitted to the United States.

Secondary Inspection – what leads you to a secondary inspection?

If the first CBP officer that a foreign national meets feels that the inspection requires additional time for review to determine a foreign national's eligibility, the officer may refer the foreign national for a “secondary inspection.” This secondary inspection at a U.S. Port-of-Entry is a much more comprehensive review, and can take several hours to complete. Generally a foreign national referred for secondary inspection is not considered to be “admitted” to the United States.

What generally happens in a secondary inspection?

In secondary inspection, CBP officers will ask foreign national more detailed questions about their travel plans for the U.S. Foreign nationals may even be asked to produce additional identification and other documentation in order to determine their actual identity and purpose of their visit to the United States. The foreign national and their belongings may also be searched, and the foreign national may be required to give a full set of fingerprints.

Any person, foreign national or person with a claim to U.S. citizenship and presenting a U.S. passport may be sent to secondary inspection at a U.S. Port-of-Entry if the CBP officer has reservations about admitting him to the United States. A person may also be sent to secondary inspection if there is a possibility the person is smuggling contraband or violating any other customs or immigration regulations, or federal law in general.

Brenda arrived at the immigration inspection station at Chicago’s O’hare International Airport. When she stepped up to the immigration station the officer noticed she was more nervous than usual. After asking her a couple of questions he referred her to secondary for further questioning. At secondary they opened her luggage and found a wedding dress, and she admitted that she was coming to the US to get married.

Brad was on the same plane and got to the immigration inspection station shortly after Brenda. The officer wondered why he was carrying a brief case since his stated reason for travel to the US was to “see the sights” and visit the Disneyworld. It seemed strange that he flew in through Chicago when there were better flights to the Orlando area. Brad was also referred to secondary where it was discovered that he had a stack of resumes in his brief case and that he had several job interviews lined up over the next several days.

Both Brenda and Brad can be denied entry because they gave false information or withheld material evidence from an immigration inspector at the time of their seeking entry into the US.

Arriving at a US Port of Entry – a detailed look:
  1. Airport

    When your initial arrival in the United States will be an airport, the airline will give all non-US citizens a form to complete while en route to the United States, either Form I-94 (white), Arrival/Departure Record, or Form I-94W (green), Nonimmigrant Visa Waiver Arrival/Departure Form. The forms ask for primary identification information and the address where you will stay while in the US.

    Upon arrival, you will be directed by airline personnel or US immigration officers to the inspection area. You will queue up in one of several inspection lines and speak with an Immigration Inspector. If you are a US citizen, special lines may be available to you. If you are not a US citizen, you should use the lanes marked for non-US citizens.

    If you are a US citizen, the inspector will ask for your passport, verify your citizenship, and then welcome you back to the US. You will then proceed to the customs inspection area.

    If you are a foreign national, the CBP officer must determine the reason for your trip to the United States, what documents you have to present, whether you have those documents, and how long you should be allowed to initially stay in the United States if all your documentation is in order. The time taken to determine these elements is usually less than one minute. If you are to be admitted and allowed to proceed, the Inspector will stamp your passport and issue you a completed Form I-94. A completed form will show what immigration classification you were given and how long you are allowed to stay. This I-94 Form, not your visa, indicates how long you may stay in the U.S. It is advisable that you do not lose your I-94 card as you will need it when you leave the country.

    Completion of entry paperwork if arriving by air: Flight attendants will distribute Customs Declaration Forms (CF-6059) and Arrival Departure Record Forms (I-94) prior to you arrival in the US. These should be completed prior to landing and must be completed before you meet with an Immigration Inspector.

  2. Land

    At a land border POE you foreign nationals will undergo the same general process. However, one CBP officer may conduct all four inspections. That officer may send you to a secondary inspection area for further review or issuance of necessary papers. Once the initial CBP officer (Immigration Inspector) determines to admit you to the United States you may then be sent to customs or immediately allowed to proceed on your trip.

    Completion of entry paperwork if arriving by land:The CBP Officer at the POE will provide the necessary Customs Declaration Forms (CF-6059) and Arrival-Departure Record Forms (I-94) to be filled out upon your arrival.

  3. Sea

    The inspection process at a sea port of entry is similar to the airport process. Oftentimes, all inspections will be completed prior to the boat's arrival in the United States seaport.

    Completion of entry paperwork if arriving by sea: The CBP Officer at the port of entry will provide the necessary Customs Declaration Forms (CF-6059) and Arrival-Departure Record Forms (I-94) to be filled out upon your arrival.

Documentation Requirements for Arrivals at Ports of Entry:

Each nonimmigrant foreign national arriving in the United States must present a valid unexpired passport issued by his or her country of nationality and, if required, a valid unexpired visa issued by a US embassy or consulate abroad. Foreign nationals entering the US must also satisfy any other applicable admission requirements (e.g., United States Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology Program (US-VISIT)).

Special Provisions for Canadians

Canadian Citizens traveling to the U.S. do not require a nonimmigrant visa, except while traveling to U.S. for certain purposes like:

  • Treaty Traders and Treaty Investors (E-1 and E-2)
  • Fiancee, Children of Fiancee, (K-1 and K-2)
  • U.S. citizen’s foreign citizen spouse, who is traveling to the U.S. to complete the process of immigration (K-3)
  • Children of a foreign citizen spouse (K-4)
  • Spouses of lawful permanent residents (V-1) traveling to the U.S. to reside in the U.S. while they wait for the final completion of their immigration process
  • Children of spouses of lawful permanent residents (V-2).

Permanent residents of Canada must have a nonimmigrant visa, unless the permanent resident is a national of a country that participates in the Visa Waiver Program (VWP); meets the VWP requirements and is seeking to enter the U.S. for 90 days or less under that program.

Most Canadian citizens are also not subject to the US-VISIT program. However, citizens of Canada applying for admission with a non-immigrant visa such as Canadian Citizens with K or E Visas; Canadian Permanent Residents and Canadians with dual nationality who present a non-Canadian passport when seeking to enter the U.S. will be subject the US-VISIT Program and will have their finger print scanned and digital photograph taken by the Immigration Authorities. CBP officers may also refer a visitor for US-VISIT processing as part of the US immigration inspection process if there is a concern about the nature of travel.

The Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) requires Canadian travelers to present a passport or certain border crossing cards when seeking entry into the U.S.

Special Requirements for Mexicans

Citizens and Permanent Residents of Mexico generally must have a nonimmigrant visa or Border Crossing Card. Nonimmigrant Visa is not required for Mexican B-1 and B-2 visitors who are in possession of a valid, unexpired ‘laser visa’ border crossing card (DSP-150), which can be issued to Mexican citizens seeking to enter the U.S. as B-1 or B-2 visitors for periods of stay not exceeding 6 months. All other Mexican citizens must present a visa.

Mexican Citizens traveling to the U.S. using a Border Crossing Card and traveling within the border zone will not be generally subject to US-VISIT Procedures. Mexican citizens planning to travel outside the border zone and/or stay for more than 30 days must complete Form I-94 and will be processed through US-VISIT. Mexican Citizens who participate in SENTRI and/or FAST programs will not be enrolled in US-VISIT procedures until they are required to re-register as part of the routine processing to renew a multiple-entry Form I-94.

Mexican citizens are not impacted by WHTI document requirements. Mexican citizen visitors, including children, are required to present a passport with a nonimmigrant visa or a laser visa Border Crossing Card to cross the U.S. border. This requirement applies to SENTRI program members as well.

TN-2 Mexican Professionals also must also carry copies of documentation presented to the consulate when the visa was issued and present it if requested by the Immigration Inspector.


The United States has numerous Ports Of Entry that facilitate the entry and exit of persons and vehicles through its land borders with Mexico and Canada. The San Ysidro, California POE is the world’s largest land border crossing for personnel and passenger vehicles. This POE alone processes over 2 million visitors per month either as pedestrians or in passenger vehicles. The U.S. also has some of the busiest airports in the world, processing millions of passengers seeking to enter the U.S. each month. While this may seem a daunting task, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency has stepped up to the challenge.

The U.S., at every phase of the inspection process, takes the care and precautions necessary to make sure that they do not admit any persons who are not eligible for entry into the United States. If you have questions about the inspection at a U.S. Port-of-Entry or require assistance in coming to U.S., Contact VisaPro. Our experienced attorneys will be happy to assist you

The above article is brought to you by "". VisaPro’s US Immigration Lawyer Services include H-1B, K-1 Visa, K-3, L-1, Green Card, and over 100 Immigration Services.

The information in this article is not intended to be legal advice. If you have questions specific to your case, we suggest that you consult with the experienced immigration attorneys at

Visit VisaPro regularly for updates and the latest immigration news at

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