Your first stop when you arrive in the United States will be a U.S. "Port of Entry" (POE). Airports, land border crossings, and seaports can all serve as ports of entry.
Many people have questions about the immigration inspection process and what to expect when arriving at a U.S. port of entry. We’ll answer them now!
At each U.S. port of entry, CBP officers review the passports, visas and other supporting documents of every foreign national arriving in the U.S.
Your first encounter with CBP officers will be at a primary inspection station. Officers ask foreign nationals questions that confirm their identity and nationality. You must present your passport and other required documents. These materials will be reviewed by CBP officers, who will determine if you are able to enter the U.S.
Most visitors and other nonimmigrants will also be
"ten-printed" (meaning that they will have their fingerprints taken) and a digital photograph will also be taken.
If you are approved for admission, the CBP officer will also determine the length of time you will be able to stay in the U.S., and what your admission status will be.
Immigration Officers are carefully trained and have considerable experience conducting immigration inspections for foreign nationals. They can easily identify individuals with a hidden agenda who are attempting to enter the U.S. under false pretenses. They also have the ability to search your luggage or personal devices (such as laptops or mobile phones) for evidence about the true purpose of your trip.
CBP officers at U.S. ports of entry ask questions that will identify the true purpose of your trip to the U.S.
If an officer is not satisfied with your preliminary answers, he or she may ask for additional supporting documentation or ask you to go through secondary inspection before allowing you to enter the U.S.
CBP officers conducting immigration inspections at a U.S. port of entry have what seems like absolute power and authority. They have full jurisdiction to decide whether or not you may enter the U.S.
You cannot enter the U.S. until you pass successfully through the inspection station and a CBP officer places an admission stamp in your passport. Only after these steps have been completed will you be permitted to officially enter the United States.
If the first CBP officer you meet feels that your immigration inspection requires additional time for review, you may be subject to a U.S. immigration secondary inspection to confirm your eligibility to enter the U.S.
U.S. immigration secondary inspection at a USA port of entry is much more comprehensive in nature than a primary inspection, and can take several hours to complete. In most cases, a foreign national flagged for a U.S. secondary immigration inspection is not considered to be "admitted" into the United States.
During a secondary inspection:
Brenda arrived at the immigration inspection station at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport. When she stepped up to the officer’s station, he observed that she seemed exceptionally nervous. After asking her a few standard questions, he referred her for a secondary inspection, where she would undergo further questioning. At secondary, her luggage was searched and officials found a wedding dress. She then admitted that the true purpose of her visit to the U.S. was to get married.
Brad was on the same plane, arriving at the immigration inspection station shortly after Brenda. The officer interviewing him became suspicious when Brad said that he was in the U.S. on a sightseeing trip to Disneyworld, but he was carrying a brief case. It also seemed odd to the officer that Brad chose Chicago as his destination when it was much easier to access Disneyworld by flying directly into the Orlando area. Brad was directed to secondary inspection as well, where officials uncovered a stack of resumes in his brief case and learned that he had several job interviews lined up over the next several days.
Because false information was provided and material evidence was withheld, officials can deny both Brenda and Brad entry into the U.S. and prevent them from entering the U.S. in the future unless they can provide a waiver.
When you arrive, U.S. Immigration Officers or airport personnel will direct you to the immigration inspection area. You will take your place in line and when it is your turn, speak with an Immigration Inspector. Dedicated lines are often available to U.S. Citizens, legal permanent residents and visitors. If you are not a U.S. Citizen, be sure to use the lanes marked for foreign nationals or "visitors".
When you enter the United States through an airport, immigration will collect your information from your electronic travel records with the airline to create your I-94 Arrival/Departure Record. You will be able to access the Automated I-94 information and
I-94 Number within a few days after entry. The CBP officer will stamp your passport/travel document with the date of admission, the class of admission and the date your stay will expire, if applicable.
If you are a foreign national, the CBP officer will ask why you are visiting the United States, ask to see the relevant documents, and decide how long you should be allowed to stay during this visit to the United States. These steps are usually completed within a few minutes.
If you are approved for admission and directed to proceed, the officer will stamp your passport with the date of admission, the class of admission and the date your stay will expire. The CBP officer will most likely also direct you to check online in few days to access your I-94 record.
When entering the U.S. at a land border, foreign nationals will be subject to the same general process. However, Form I-94’s have not been automated for land ports of entry as advance travel information is generally not available. Visitors will need to fill out paper Form I-94’s. The forms request primary identification information. Once inspected and approved for admission, the CBP officer will stamp your passport and issue you a completed Form I-94. The completed form will indicate your assigned immigration classification and state how long you are permitted to stay in the U.S.
The Form I-94 - not your visa - indicates how long you may stay in the U.S. Do not misplace your I-94 because it will be required when you are leaving the country.
At land ports of entry, one CBP officer will most likely conduct all four inspections. This officer may send you to a secondary inspection area pending further review or issuance of necessary papers.
The immigration inspection process at a seaport port of entry is similar to the airport process.
In most cases, immigration inspections are completed prior to disembarking at the United States seaport.
Each non-immigrant foreign national arriving in the U.S. must possess a valid, unexpired passport/travel document issued by his or her country of nationality and, if required, a valid, unexpired visa issued by a U.S. embassy or consulate abroad.
Foreign nationals entering the U.S. must also satisfy any other specific admission requirements that are necessary for their class of admission. For example, F-1 visa students will need to have a signed Form
I-20 and H-1B workers will need to have their Form I-797 H-1B approval notice.
Canadian Citizens visiting the U.S. need a non-immigrant visa only if they are traveling to the U.S. for certain specific purposes, such as:
Unlike Citizens of Canada, permanent residents of Canada must have a
non-immigrant visa, unless the permanent resident:
Most Canadian Citizens are not subject to the US-VISIT program. However, there are some exceptions.
These individuals will be subject to the US-VISIT Program. They will have their fingerprints scanned and a digital photograph taken by the immigration authorities.
CBP officers may also direct visitors to US-VISIT processing as part of the immigration inspection process if there is a reason to doubt the person’s integrity or question their intentions.
Generally speaking, Citizens and permanent residents of Mexico must possess a non-immigrant visa or Border Crossing Card.
TN-2 Mexican professionals must also carry copies of all documentation presented to the Consulate indicating when the visa was issued. They must present it when it is requested by the Immigration Inspector.
A non-immigrant visa is not required for Mexican B-1 and B-2 visitors who have a valid, unexpired ‘laser visa’ Border Crossing Card (DSP-150). These are issued to Mexican Citizens who wish to enter the U.S. as B-1 or B-2 visitors for visits that will not exceed 6 months. All other Mexican Citizens must present a visa.