Inspections of Foreign Nationals Entering the U.S.
Customs and Border Protection officers conduct inspections of foreign nationals who are entering the U.S., regardless of whether they have an immigrant visa, a non-immigrant visa, or protection under the visa waiver program. You can expect a CBP officer to examine your passport and documents carefully, so you should prepare your papers in advance. The officer will want to confirm that you have permission to enter the U.S., and they will want to identify any information that might suggest that you are inadmissible. Foreign nationals who have an immigrant visa will need to provide the officer with a sealed envelope that holds their visa documents.
Unfortunately, this process is not always efficient. The officer will check computer databases to verify that the foreign national has valid papers. They will look for any indication that the foreign national could threaten U.S. security or that they are entering the U.S. on fraudulent grounds. In this situation, a CBP officer has the authority to order a foreign national to return home rather than allowing them into the U.S., even if they have a valid visa. The foreign national might be unable to attempt another entry for five years. Foreign nationals from some countries that pose relatively low risks may be able to enter the U.S. by using a kiosk at an airport instead of going through an inspection line. This involves registering for the Trusted Traveler program and bringing only a limited amount of items and currency with you.
Trusted Traveler Programs
Foreign nationals eligible for a Trusted Traveler program may be able to use an expedited process when entering the U.S.
Talking to CBP Officers
An officer has the authority to ask a foreign national a broad range of questions. Even if a question seems surprising or immaterial, you should respond politely and keep the interaction on civil terms. The officer likely will ask you why you are coming to the U.S. Any reason that you provide must not violate the law and must correspond to the type of legal status that you hold. If you will not be staying permanently, the officer may ask more specific questions regarding where you will be staying, with whom you will be staying, and how long you will be staying. If you do not have clear answers to these questions, the officer may suspect that you are planning on a permanent stay, in violation of your visa. You also may be asked how much money you are bringing into the U.S., since the officer will want to make sure that you can pay for your stay without getting a job.
BP officers may deny entry to a foreign national whom they find inadmissible for reasons such as their criminal record or their violation of immigration laws.
People on immigrant visas as well as non-immigrant visas may face questions designed to uncover previous visa overstays. The officer may ask whether you stayed in the U.S. for longer than you were allowed, since this may bar you from reentry within a certain period. (You may be excused from complying with this rule if you have a waiver.) The officer also may ask people on non-immigrant visas how often they come to the U.S. Foreign nationals who frequently travel to the U.S. on non-immigrant visas may be suspected of abusing these visas and trying to live in the U.S. permanently without an immigrant visa or a green card.
Rights at the Border or Point of Entry
You do not have many rights if you are coming to the U.S. on an immigrant or non-immigrant visa. For example, you do not have a right to a hearing before an immigration judge in most situations, unless you are pursuing asylum. You do not have a right to a lawyer when interacting with CBP officers, and your luggage may be subject to search.
You should review the items in your luggage before your trip to make sure that you will not bring anything that might trigger CBP suspicions. People who are coming for a temporary stay in the U.S. should not bring materials that suggest that they are planning on a long-term stay. A foreign national also cannot bring a gun, illegal drugs, or certain types of animals, plants, and fruits that are not allowed in the U.S.