Traveling to the United States for the Holidays? What to Say at the Border

If you are planning a trip to the United States, make sure you are ready for the inspection and admission process at the border.  Whether you are entering at the airport, by land, or by boat (even on cruise ship), you will need show that you are eligible to be admitted to the United States.  Here are some tips to make the process smooth and easy:

  1. Have the right documents, and keep them in a safe but accessible place.  Non-citizens need to have a passport and a valid visa to be admitted to the United States (unless you are from a country that participates in the Visa Waiver Program – click here to check the list of countries that participate).  If you are a Lawful Permanent Resident of the United States, you do not need your passport, but do need to present your permanent resident card (your “green card”), or other evidence of your permanent resident status.
  2. Explain the purpose of your trip when asked.  All persons applying for admission to the United States are presumed to be immigrants unless they can prove that they have nonimmigrant intent – that is, that they intend to return to their home country before the end of their authorized stay in the United States.  When the Officer questions you about the purpose of your trip, the Officer is trying to determine whether or not your purpose is consistent with the rules for a visitor (as opposed to a worker or a permanent resident, for example), and whether you will return to your home country at the end of your trip.  Answer the Officer’s questions truthfully and completely. Understand that the Officer is required to ask these questions.  Be polite and keep calm during the inspection.
  3. If you have ever been arrested or convicted of a criminal offense, in any country, you should consult with a US immigration attorney before going to the border.  A criminal conviction can result in inadmissibility to the United States.  Inadmissibility means that you will not be admitted.  There are many criminal convictions that will make a person inadmissible to the United States – including minor convictions, and convictions for offenses committed as a juvenile.  Even if you have received a pardon from your government for the conviction, you are required to disclose the conviction, and you may still be inadmissible for the conviction, because the United States does not recognize pardons for immigration purposes.  If you are inadmissible to the United States because of a criminal conviction, you may be eligible for a waiver of inadmissibility, which would allow you to be admitted to the United States despite your inadmissibility.  A US immigration attorney can review your arrest or conviction to determine if you are inadmissible to the United States, and whether a waiver of inadmissibility is available to you.
  4. If you have had previous US immigration problems, such as having been denied admission previously, having been in the United States unlawfully, or having been previously deported from the United States, you should consult with a US immigration attorney before going to the border.  You may be inadmissible to the United States as a result of your previous immigration problems.  If you are inadmissible to the United States because of your previous immigration problems, you may be eligible for a waiver of inadmissibility, which would allow you to be admitted to the United States despite your inadmissibility.  A US immigration attorney can review your previous immigration problems to determine if you are inadmissible to the United States, and whether a waiver of inadmissibility is available to you.
  5. Be truthful.  One of the most important things to remember at the border is to be truthful in what you say to the inspecting Officer.  A fraud or willful misrepresentation to obtain immigration benefits can make you inadmissible to the United States for life.  For example, if you are entering the United States to marry your United States citizen boyfriend, do not say that you are entering to shop at the outlet mall.  It is better to delay your trip, obtain the right entry documents (such as a fiancé visa), and be admitted to the United States in the right status, than to commit a fraud that can result in a permanent bar to the United States (and separation from your loved one).  If you are already inadmissible to the United States for having previously committed a fraud or willful misrepresentation, you should consult with a US immigration attorney.  You may be eligible for a waiver of inadmissibility, which would allow you to be admitted to the United States despite your inadmissibility.