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Does a Visa Guarantee Entry at the Border?

Do You Need a Visa to Enter at the Border?

Entry at a Land Crossing

A U.S. visa is an important tool for people who intend to visit the United States for business or on vacation. It can make the process of being admitted into the country much easier in most circumstances. However, there may be cases where a visa alone is not sufficient for border officers to allow you to enter the United States. 

If you’re wondering, “Does a visa guarantee entry at the border?” you’ve come to the right place. Here’s what you need to know about visas and whether a visa can guarantee entry at the border.

What Is a U.S. Visa?

In most cases, visitors to the United States must have a specific reason for their visit. The reason can be as official as a business convention or as casual as a theme park vacation. A visa is essentially an official note on your passport that states that you have permission to see entry into the country. Each visa has its own number and letter code that indicates the purpose of the visa.

A visa serves as proof that you’ve gone through the proper channels to enter the United States. It indicates that you’ve requested a visa and that a consular official at a United States Embassy or Consulate approved your application.

Do You Need a Visa to Enter at the Border?

You don’t always need a visa to enter at the border. Many countries participate in casual tourism with the United States for vacation and business purposes through a visa waiver program. Citizens of countries participating in the visa waiver program can enter the United States for up to 90 days using only their passports. 

Approximately 40 countries currently participate in the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). Citizens from some countries may need to meet additional eligibility requirements. It’s important to check specific rules for your country before traveling to the United States.

You won’t need a visa to enter at the border if you previously adjusted your status to lawful permanent resident in the U.S. or entered with an immigrant visa. Your green card or endorsed immigrant visa serves as proof of your immigration status.

Does a Visa Guarantee Entry at the Border?

While a visa is a helpful and often necessary document when seeking entry into the United States, entry is never a guarantee. However, the majority of people who arrive in the United States at a recognized land border, sea border, or port of entry at an airport will be allowed to enter if their visa is valid. 

A visa is more of a strong suggestion that the holder should be allowed into the country. A visa indicates that an immigration official decided that you were eligible to enter the United States for a specific purpose, and they’ve given you permission. 

The decision to let you in ultimately depends on the enforcement agents who greet you when you arrive. They’ll review your visa and verify your information, but they can make the decision to deny you entry if they believe the circumstances are suspicious or not as represented.

Immigration officers may put you through an inspection process upon arrival. The purpose of this process is to verify your identity and the legitimacy of your visit. If there are complications with your entry, like the presence of contraband in your luggage or conflicts with information between your passport and your visa, you may be denied entry. 

This doesn’t happen very often. If you were honest while obtaining a visa and entered the country with the correct documentation, you’re unlikely to experience issues upon arrival.

What Happens If You’re Denied Entry With a Visa?

If you’re denied entry with a nonimmigrant visa, the path forward largely depends on the reason for your denial. There’s nothing you can do at the port of entry. The United States reserves the right to refuse entry or revoke a visa. Your only option is to apply for a new visa.

You may be allowed to withdraw your application for admission and depart the U.S. You may also be subject to expedited removal proceedings. If you are ordered removed, you will not only be denied entry, but also be subject to a 5-year ban from re-entering the U.S. If you indicate a fear of returning to your native country, you may be able to have a hearing before an Immigration Judge. 

If the decision to deny entry into the United States is based on inappropriate or criminal behavior upon entry (like attempting to enter with contraband or harassing a border officer during your entry attempt), there are no alternative options. Breaking the law or engaging in inappropriate behavior can lead to a definitive denial of entry.

If your visa itself was denied, there is a different  process for seeking reconsideration. You shouldn’t attempt to enter the United States after applying for a visa and receiving a denial. You also shouldn’t arrive while you’re still waiting for visa approval. You’re only admissible if your visa has been approved and placed in your passport.

Do You Need Help Obtaining Your Visa?

It’s important to choose the right visa for your circumstances and enter the country correctly. If you’re unsure about which type of visa you need to enter the United States, it’s best to seek the advice of an experienced immigration attorney. If you make the right choices at the beginning of the process, you’re less likely to encounter issues with your visa later. The immigration law team at Cohen, Tucker + Ades may be able to help. 

Contact us for a consultation if you have questions about the visa process. We may be able to assist you with choosing a visa and properly submitting the information necessary for your application.

We can also assist you if you were denied entry with a visa, as long as it wasn’t a visitor visa or a conduct-related issue. Our legal team has experience in appealing decisions in immigration law. If a denial is preventing you from working or doing business in the United States, contact us today.


What is a U.S. Visa? | US Department of State | Bureau of Consular Affairs

Visa Waiver Program | United States Department of State | Bureau of Consular Affairs

Immigration Inspection Program | U.S. Customs and Border Protection

Visa Denials | US Department of State | Bureau of Consular Affairs


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