Visitors Report Increasing Challenges at U.S. Ports of Entry

By Brittany M. Milliasseau, Lorella T. Hess & Nancy E. Miller

Earlier this week, President Trump issued a memorandum establishing a “National Vetting Center” aimed at enhancing border security and identifying individuals who pose a threat to national security and public safety.  The National Vetting Center, which will be led by the Department of Homeland Security, is another step towards President Trump’s pledge to “step up our already Extreme Vetting Program.”  While the memorandum was issued just a few days ago, heightened screening and vetting of applications for visas and other immigration benefits has been underway for the past several months.  One area where noncitizens have recently reported challenges is during their screening for admission into the United States as visitors for business and tourism.

For years, individuals from all over the world have utilized the B visa to enter the United States.  In order to be eligible for a B-1/B-2 visa, a noncitizen must demonstrate that he or she has a foreign residence that he or she has no intention of abandoning and will be visiting the United States temporarily for business or pleasure.  Visitors seeking to enter the U.S. for business are admitted in B-1 status and visitors seeking to enter for pleasure or tourism are admitted in B-2 status.  While many noncitizens are able to successfully secure B-1/B-2 visas at consular posts, it should be noted that possession of a valid visa does not guarantee admission into the United States.  Admission is to the discretion of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Officer who makes a determination as to whether a B-1/B-2 visa holder may enter the United States and for how long he or she is authorized to stay.  Applicants for B visas should be aware that, in all cases, they have the burden to show they do not have “immigrant intent”—that is, their visit to the United States will be only temporary.

In the event a CBP officer deems a noncitizen to be inadmissible, the individual may be placed in removal proceedings or expeditiously removed – that is, removed from the United States immediately, in the absence of an Immigration Judge and without a hearing or review. While it is extremely tolling for one to be sent back to his or her country of origin after being detained for hours and questioned, it is often most difficult for one to be faced with the harsh reality of not knowing when or if he or she may be permitted to return to the United States.  For those who receive an expedited removal order, the consequences are heavy. Noncitizens who have been expeditiously removed are barred from re-entering the U.S. for a five, ten, twenty-year period, or even indefinitely depending on several factors.

In certain circumstances, an arriving alien may be permitted to withdraw his or her application for admission and depart the U.S. immediately, in lieu of expedited removal or a removal proceeding, however this is no guarantee. As such, B-1/B-2 visitors planning to travel to the United States are strongly encouraged to consult with a knowledgeable immigration attorney before presenting themselves for admission.  Visitors who have past criminal issues, have previously been denied admission, expeditiously removed, or who may have otherwise violated the terms of their visas, should consult with an experienced immigration attorney who can evaluate their eligibility.  Similarly, visitors who travel frequently to the United States, have close relatives in the United States, or whose past visits lasted for longer than a few weeks, should also consult with an experienced immigration attorney.

As vetting procedures increase, individuals that are interested in traveling to the United States with B-1/B-2 visas or under the visa waiver program, should seek competent immigration counsel to discuss their specific case history.  Even if you or someone you know has traveled to the United States many times before as a visitor and has never faced any issues, it is important to keep in mind that admission is not guaranteed, especially with the increase in “extreme vetting.” Speak with a knowledgeable immigration attorney for information on how to best prepare for travel as a visitor and how to respond in the event that you face challenges at the port of entry.