THE BLOG
12/05/2013 02:54 pm ET | Updated Feb 04, 2014

Navigating Through Immigration: How to Avoid Detours and Delays

As the holiday season approaches us, we all are grateful for another year and we are also looking forward to sharing time with our family and friends. As you are expecting your loved ones to arrive during the holidays, you can help them avoid travel frustration and excessive delays when encountering the United States Customs and Border Protection officers by confirming that they have the proper travel documents before entering the United States.

Travelers must be equipped with the necessary paperwork (i.e. a valid travel visa) and thorough answers to questions concerning their visit to the United States during Thanksgiving and Christmas -- arguably the heaviest traveling period of the year. Even if your visa and intentions are valid, if a U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer finds a problem or believes you are being dishonest, you can be refused entry at the border, returned to your home country, and prohibited from returning to the United States for five years. To avoid this stress, as a holiday traveler, it is your duty to prepare yourself for the inevitable immigration process.

Be Prepared for Questions... Lots of Them

Below are questions that you may be required to answer upon entering the United States and meeting a U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer. Keep in mind, the officer is free to ask you just about any question that he or she feels is related to your visit to the United States. The officer may inquire about the following:

Why are you visiting the United States? Your answer must show that you do not plan to violate any U.S. laws and must also match the type of visa that you have been granted. For example, if you have a visitor visa, but you state that you are visiting the U.S. to find a job, you will more than likely be sent on the next flight or bus home.

Who will you be visiting? By asking this question, the officer is trying to determine that you have clear, legal plans while visiting the U.S.

Where will you be staying? The officer wants to know that you have clear plans for what you will be doing while you are in the U.S. If you have no previously arranged place to stay, the officer might question whether you should be allowed into the country.

How long will you be staying? The officer wants to know that you do not plan to stay in the United States longer than you should. Upon entry into the U.S., information about an I-94 form will be provided to you by a U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer. This required document will inform you of the date of your entry into the United States and the date by which you must leave the United States.

How much money are you bringing? The officer wants to know that you will be able to cover your expenses during your visit to the United States.

How often do you come to the United States? The officer is looking to see whether you are the type of traveler to use non-immigrant visas as a way of living in the United States for extended periods of time. If this is found to be true, you may be accused of misusing your visa and you may be denied entry into the United States.

Have you visited the United States before and remained after your visa expired? If you are a traveler who voluntarily left the United States after remaining in the country for more than six months, but less than one year after your visa expired, you can be barred from re-entering the United States for three years. If you are a traveler who voluntarily left the United States after remaining in the country for more than one year after your visa expired, you can be prohibited from re-entering the United States for ten years.

Be Prepared for a Luggage Search

Any U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer has the right to search your luggage and personal belongings when you enter the United States, so make sure that you do not have anything that appears to contradict your visa status. For example, if you are entering the U.S. as a visitor for the holidays, do not bring a stack of resumes and documents on the U.S. immigration process because it will appear to the officer that you are entering the U.S. with hopes of landing a job and remaining in the U.S. permanently. Also, avoid packing illegal or questionable items, such as illegal drugs or prescriptions, weapons, plants, fruits, and animals of types or species that are not allowed into the United States.

Remember, by remaining polite and calm during the immigration questioning and search period, you will increase your chances of being treated with respect and entering the United States with little to no delay. Once the U.S. immigration entry process is completed, your vacation and reason for traveling can begin with the peace of knowing that you are in route to spending a memorable holiday season with the ones you love.

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