Avoiding Confusion At US Port Of Entry:

Tips To Minimize Delays Due To Strict Entry-Exit Procedures


A clear understanding of entry and exit procedures for the U.S. can help you avoid denials, and even more serious issues, at the port-of-entry.

Approximately 28 million nonimmigrants enter or leave the U.S. annually to conduct business, work study, visit family, or tour the country. Legitimate visitors are always welcome and the U.S. government is committed to facilitating their travel. A critical need for tighter security dictates strict entry and exit procedures at the US Ports of Entry.

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I. Before Your Trip

You’ve decided to visit the U.S. You have a valid nonimmigrant visa or you’re from a national of a Visa Waiver country and you’ve obtained your ESTA authorization.

If you are a nonimmigrant visitor, here are some of the things you should do to prepare for your trip to make your entry as smooth as possible:

A.Before leaving the country, at least 1-2 months in advance, if possible, confirm that your passport and visa are still valid for entry into the U.S.

1.The passport should be valid for at least six months beyond the date of your expected stay.

2.Your visa should be valid at the time you apply for admission. If your visa is stamped in an older passport, make sure you are carrying both your current passport as well as the previous passport.

3.If you are entering the US under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), make sure you have obtained authorization through the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA).

B.Check to see that the visa in the passport accurately reflects the correct visa classification. If you do not have the correct visa for the stated purpose of your trip to the U.S. you will be denied entry and sent back to the origination point of your flight.

C.When you travel, you may need to carry certain supporting documents in addition to the passport and visa. Make sure these documents are on with you and not placed in your checked baggage. The immigration check at the port of entry usually takes place BEFORE you can claim your checked baggage at the airport. Additionally, you cannot guarantee that your checked baggage will not be lost or delayed.

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II. Primary Inspection At Port of Entry

Upon arrival at the Port of Entry, Customs & Border Protection (CBP) officers conduct initial examinations of all arriving visitors at ‘primary inspection’. The primary inspection is the only inspection needed for those who are ‘clearly admissible’. Each person is checked through a centralized computer system. The vast majority of individuals are ‘clearly admissible’ and are coming to the U.S. for legitimate purposes with legitimate documents.

Primary inspection generally takes no more than 2-3 minutes. The CBP officer will check your passport and visa and any supporting documents and will most likely ask questions regarding details about your trip to the U.S. and expected date of departure.

The CBP officer will finally stamp your passport- the stamp will contain your date of entry to the U.S., the visa classification on which you are entering and the expiration of you authorized stay.

NOTE: All foreign visitors to the U.S. obtain a Form I-94 Arrival/Departure Record. CBP collects the information for the I-94 for most travelers electronically. Visitors can access the electronic I-94 record from https://i94.cbp.dhs.gov/. Those entering the U.S. by land or sea will fill out a paper Form I-94 which will be stamped by the CBP officer along with the passport. The expiration of authorized stay stamped on the I-94 or found in the electronic I-94 controls. You should leave the U.S. no later than the date listed on the I-94.

III. Secondary Inspection At Port of Entry

If there appear to be discrepancies in the documents presented or answers given, or if there are any other problems, questions, or suspicions that cannot be resolved within the exceedingly brief period allowed for primary inspection, you will be referred to ‘secondary inspection’, where a more thorough inquiry may be conducted. Secondary inspection allows inspectors to conduct additional research in order to verify information.

At secondary inspection, you are not permitted representation or the right to consult with an attorney unless you have become the focus of a criminal investigation and have been taken into custody for that purpose. You do not have a specific right to telephone or contact friends, relatives, or other persons who might assist you. Historically, the great majority of these secondary inspections result in the admission of the person being inspected.

IV. US-VISIT Program

On January 5, 2004, US-VISIT, a comprehensive entry-exit registration system was implemented at all international airports throughout the U.S. Nonimmigrant visitors holding visas will be participating in the program which involves obtaining a scan of two index fingerprints and a digital photograph. US-VISIT is part of a continuum of security measures that begins overseas, when a person applies for a visa to travel to the U.S, and continues on through entry and exit at U.S. air and seaports and, eventually, at land border crossings. The US-VISIT program is meant to:

  1. Enhance the security of U.S. citizens and visitors
  2. Expedite legitimate travel and trade
  3. Ensure the integrity of the immigration system
  4. Safeguard the personal privacy of nonimmigrant visitors

V. Exit Procedures

There are no formal “exit” procedures when leaving the U.S. For those who entered the U.S. via land or sea and were given a paper I-94, it is important that I-94 should be surrendered at the port of entry.

CBP and Dept. of Homeland Security coordinates with the airlines and other carriers in obtaining flight manifests, etc. CBP will presumably have a record of your departure if you leave by air as your passport will be inspected by an airline representative before boarding.

If you did not receive a paper I-94 in entry into the U.S. but are leaving the U.S. via land or sea, it is your responsibility to maintain proof of your timely departure.


At VisaPro, we appreciate the efforts being taken by the U.S. government to ensure the safety and security of citizens and visitors. We are constantly keeping track of all the developments related to entry-exit procedures and will continue to update you on the latest happenings.

If you run into a potential issue at the port-of-entry, or have a general question regarding US visas, our best us immigration lawyers will be happy to assist you. Schedule A Free Consultation Today >>

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