WHETHER you are coming into the United States with a nonimmigrant visa or as a legal immigrant, entering the U.S. is an interesting experience, so it is good to be prepared.

Whether you enter the country by land, air or sea, the first person you will meet upon your arrival will be a Customs and Border Protection officer (CBP). This person will be required to inspect your passport and immigration documents to verify that you have been given permission to enter the country.

You may be feeling excited and happy to set foot on American soil. However, don’t expect any fanfare when you arrive. CBP officials are trained to be cynical. They are not there to greet you, but to scrutinize your documentation. So to avoid any mishaps, be sure when you approach CBP officials you have all of your documentation ready to hand over to the officer.

The CBP officer will review your documentation and crosscheck it in their computer to look for any irregularities. They will not only look at your documents, but will also be asking you various questions about your stay in the U.S. They are looking for anyone who intends to enter the U.S. for an illegal purpose. Even if your paperwork is order, if the officer feels that you could be lying, or finds an irregularity, you can be refused entry. So it is important to be prepared with your paperwork, and be able to answer any questions they throw your way.

People are often anxious about what type of questions they will be asked. The main thing is to be polite, and answer all of their questions calmly and to the best of your ability.

Some questions that may be asked of you could include:

Where will you be staying while in the U.S.? The officer will want to feel comfortable that you have clear, definitive plans while in the U.S. If you have no idea where you will be staying, this could send up a red flag.

Why are you coming to the U.S.? Whatever your response, it should match the reason that is on your visa. Any inconsistencies in your response could be a cause for concern for the CBP officer.

How long are you staying in the U.S.? You need to respond in such way that the officer knows you are only intending to stay for as long as you are authorized. You will be given an I-94 card that will tell you the date that you must leave the U.S.

Who will you be visiting? The officer is checking to be sure you have set plans, and are not here for some vague or even illegal purpose.

Have you ever been here before, and if so, did you stay longer than authorized?
This question is important. If you have previously been the U.S. and stayed 6 months longer than you were authorized, you are not eligible to come to the U.S. again unless you have special permission. The exception to this is if you have waited three years or more before you return. If you overstayed for one year or longer, the waiting period to return is 10 years.

How often do you travel to the U.S.? The officer here is trying to determine if you are working the system, or using non-immigrant visas as a way to live in the U.S. This is a misuse of a visa, and you can be denied entry into the U.S.

Be Aware of Your Rights

It is important to know that as a foreign national, you really have few rights during the application and screening process to enter the U.S. You do not have the right to have a lawyer present. If you are interrogated you also do not have the right to contact a lawyer. Your luggage can be searched whether you give permission or not.

Luggage Search

You should expect that your luggage will be searched. So make sure that there is nothing in your luggage that runs contrary to why you are coming to the U.S. For instance if you are visiting as a tourist, you do not want items in your luggage that make it look like you are staying here longer. Of course, makes sure that your luggage does not contain any illegal or questionable items such as pornography, drugs, or any types of fruits, vegetables or animals that are not allowed into the U.S.

Entering the United States can be an exciting time, just be sure you are prepared to avoid any mishaps. It is vital that your paperwork is order. Your immigration paperwork is too important to take any chances, so be sure to consult with an immigration lawyer from the Law Offices of James G. Beirne. We provide immigration services including family, fiancé and employment petitions, student and investor visas, visa extensions, naturalization and much more. Come in today and speak with an immigration lawyer from our team. We will provide you with sound legal guidance as well as a free consultation. We have three locations to serve you, Glendale (818) 552-4500, Cerritos (562) 865-4480 and West Covina (626) 262-4446. With your first appointment, you will receive legal guidance and a free consultation, so call today.


An active member of the State Bar of California and the State Bar of Nevada, James G. Beirne is also a member of the highly respected American Immigration Lawyers Association and Los Angeles County Bar Association Immigration Section. He is admitted to practice before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, all federal district courts in California and Nevada, California state courts, and Nevada state courts. Mr. Beirne has represented clients in numerous immigration cases. His offices are located at 520 E. Wilson Ave., Suite 110, Glendale, CA 91206, and 17215 Studebaker Rd., Suite 380, Cerritos, CA 90703, with telephone numbers (818) 552-4500; (562) 865-4480; and (866) 903-4522. He also has offices at 2640 E. Garvey Ave., Suite 104, West Covina 91791, with tel. no. (626) 262-4446.
(Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only. Results may vary depending on the facts of a particular case. We make no prediction, warranty or guarantee about the results of any case, nor do we assume any legal liability for the completeness of any information and its impact on the results of any case. Each case is different and results depend on the facts of each case. Consult with and retain counsel of your own choice if you need legal advice.)