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How not to get detained at customs
August 11, 2009 8:35 AM   Subscribe

At what point during the customs process did they decide I was a "red flag" and how do I avoid it happening again?

I'm travelling to the US in the next couple of weeks -- to Indianapolis, probably via Ohio, if it matters -- and I'd like to know how I can avoid being detained at customs again, and what I should say if I am.

Last time I was in the US -- which was less than 3 months ago, which I understand may be a red flag in itself -- I was asked to get my luggage and "go to that room" after trying to get through at customs. I don't remember the details very clearly, but this is how I think it went down:

The guy at the desk asked what the purpose of my visit was, and I told him I was visiting my girlfriend (mistake #1, I suspect). Then we went through the usual hoohah of taking my fingerprints and so on. He asked how long I intended to stay, and I told him 3 months. He said I can't stay longer than 90 days, I told him I knew that and would not. He also asked how much money I had with me, and I told him $200, which probably didn't help. He asked some other questions, but I don't remember them. That was when I was asked to collect my luggage and go to a side room he pointed me to.

The guy in there was very brisk and unfriendly and immediately took to a thorough search of my luggage, and lots of questions about the purpose of my visit, the majority of which I don't recall. I do remember that he asked for the phone number of my girlfriend and called her to corroborate my story. He was very concerned that we were planning to marry while I was in the country. We both assured him we had no intention of doing so. Eventually, I was allowed to pass through -- having re-packed my luggage myself, of course.

Ridiculously, at one point, he alse noted that I seemed nervous and asked why. As if being detained at customs wasn't enough to make a person nervous!

I later noticed a label in my luggage that informed me that it had been searched at some point before reaching customs, too. I'm guessing because my computer (a Mac Mini) was inside. So I'm wondering if that showed up on their system at customs and was a contributing factor.

The circumstances this time will be largely the same. I will have more money -- closer to $700 -- for one. But this time, my purpose _is_ to get married, and then return home to apply for a K-3 visa. I will also be travelling with largely the same luggage.

I'm assuming my luggage was what prompted the difficult questions, and my wrong answers that prompted the eventual detaining. If I'm right, I'm almost certain I'll at least be questioned again. So what should I say if I am?

Honesty is usually the best policy. But telling customs I'm here to marry my girlfriend is almost definitely a bad idea, right?

At the moment, I'm thinking the best course is to say I'm merely visiting a friend, and leave out all the romantic stuff. Why do I have my computer? I'm a geek, I can't go 3 months without my computer, sir!

But is lying to customs like this likely to get me in trouble somewhere down the line? Can they check up on this stuff? And more importantly, will it affect my chances of being granted a visa?
posted by nostrich to Travel & Transportation (65 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
Forgot to mention, though I doubt it matters: I'll be coming from the UK.
posted by nostrich at 8:43 AM on August 11, 2009


Do not ever lie to immigration. Ever, in any country. Something as important as marriage has to be done legally. Do don't want to find yourself bounced out with a multi-year ban from visiting your new wife, do you?
posted by wingless_angel at 8:44 AM on August 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


UK - check the UK Yankee forum for advice on getting married legally. It should be easier in the US than the UK.
posted by wingless_angel at 8:45 AM on August 11, 2009


Oh we're ok on the legalities of this. Unless I've missed some huge bit of information, we're not breaking any rules by getting married, as long as I do leave again without overstaying my 90 days. I just want to be clear on how honest I should be about this, since I know marrying in the US and applying for a green card is a popular scam (which we are definitely not intending to do, but there's no way to prove that to a customs agent, really).
posted by nostrich at 8:48 AM on August 11, 2009


Customs doesn't care why you are traveling, whether you get married, or how long you stay. They care if you have agricultural products and/or child porn, etc.

Immigration, on the other hand, does. But I don't see how it's any of their business what your wedding plans are. Either you have the proper entry documents, or you don't, surely? What's wrong with saying you are visiting friends and leaving it at that?
posted by CunningLinguist at 8:49 AM on August 11, 2009


Be totally honest if you are within the legalities then! It may help to show that you have a job, savings, family back in the UK which prove that you have ties requiring you to go home while you apply for your next visa. This applies anywhere.
posted by wingless_angel at 8:50 AM on August 11, 2009


Single guys can sometimes stand out. There isn't much you can do about it. I and another guy had that fun experience traveling El Al to Israel. During the questioning obviously don't lie but never volunteer extra information. Just answer the basic question. You don't have to tell them you are visiting a girlfriend and hope to ask her to marry you - simply say you are visiting a friend. If they want more details by asking more questions then just answer them as they come. You don't have to the official everything about your life when they ask you where you were born, for example.
posted by JJ86 at 8:53 AM on August 11, 2009


If you decide to say that you're visiting a friend, remember to have someone that they can call to corroborate your story (as happened the first time). I have no idea what sort of information they store, but it seems likely to me that they're going to ask something about your girlfriend, or be suspicious that you're now returning to the same area, but this time visiting a "friend".
posted by iftheaccidentwill at 8:54 AM on August 11, 2009


Thanks CunningLinguist, I seem to have mixed up my terminology here. I am of course talking about immigration, not customs.
posted by nostrich at 8:56 AM on August 11, 2009


Don't lie to immigration officers, ever. You will, in all likelihood, be pulled aside again. Make sure your return flight ticket is well inside the 90 day limit (at least 2-3 days). When I was visiting my American fiancee, I generally went with this:

"What is the purpose of your visit?"

"I'm on holiday, staying with a friend."

"How did you meet this friend?"

"On a photography forum." Which was true, we met on Flickr.

If they ask if this is a romantic friendship, don't lie. I repeat, don't lie.

That said, we didn't get married in the US, so I never had to answer that particular question.
posted by Happy Dave at 9:06 AM on August 11, 2009


It's their job to hassle you and give you a hard time. Just answer truthfully and bring supporting documentation.
posted by zsazsa at 9:07 AM on August 11, 2009


I suspect that your statement that you have $200 for three months would be the biggest concern to an immigration officer, as it raises a concern that you intend to work. If you found a notice that your luggage was searched outside your presence, it was likely searched for security reasons before departure, not Immigration or Customs.
posted by blue mustard at 9:08 AM on August 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


I would say don't be totally honest! Some totally honest friends have been detained, deported, flagged, etc. By all means don't lie, but be have a decent story straight and stick to it. Eg say you are sightseeing with your friend. Have a return ticket that is for a short amount of time. Only pack bare minimum clothes. My friends have had their phone taken and every single number called looking for people who can contradict your story. This is scary stuff!
posted by avex at 9:11 AM on August 11, 2009


Seconding everyone who says that you should not lie to immigration. It is an excellent way to ensure than you can never enter the United States, even after you're legally married.

What you need is to enter under a K-1 Visa: Nonimmigrant Visa for a Fiancé. I am not an immigration lawyer, but I think it would be extremely ill-advised to enter under any other visa with the intention of marrying during your stay. If you do otherwise, you're likely to be sent back rather than simply detained. If you make it through immigration, you're likely to have a difficult time obtaining a K3 later if it's found you entered under visa-waiver or another type of visa.
posted by awesomebrad at 9:13 AM on August 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


You may want to consider making this question anonymous if you think there's even the slightest chance of immigration finding your online screen names. My ex-boyfriend was banned from Canada for a year after an online search at the border confirmed he was playing a show in Montreal (without the proper visa).
posted by lunalaguna at 9:16 AM on August 11, 2009


I would say don't be totally honest! Some totally honest friends have been detained, deported, flagged, etc. By all means don't lie, but be have a decent story straight and stick to it. Eg say you are sightseeing with your friend. Have a return ticket that is for a short amount of time. Only pack bare minimum clothes. My friends have had their phone taken and every single number called looking for people who can contradict your story. This is scary stuff!

Avex, sorry, this is horribly bad advice. You stand to lose far more by deliberately lying to an immigration officer than by being direct, honest and having supporting documentation. Of course, you need to have a legitimate and legal intention on entering the country, and have done your research on what those are. If you are, for example, honest about your intent to enter the country, get married and then stay (without the appropriate visa), you would be turned away from the border, and rightly so. But I think awesomebrad has it, you should look into a K1 visa.

But don't lie. I repeat, don't lie. A compulsory ten year travel ban to the US is just one of the things that can happen if you try to get into the US under any sort of false pretence.
posted by Happy Dave at 9:20 AM on August 11, 2009


Don't be surprised when you do get pulled to the side. As a single male it will happen repeatedly. Some sort of profiling. It happens to me all the time when traveling to/from Canada.
posted by Gungho at 9:20 AM on August 11, 2009


My most recent experience of dealing with USA border security was mostly negative and paranoid (on their side) ... so, in the light of this, I'm seconding JJ86 ...

There's lying (bad) and there's using a little guile (standard operating procedure when dealing with humanity).

Have you actually set a date for your wedding, made a big deal of alerting friends and family etc? If not, I wouldn't mention "getting married" to anyone, because in reality, it's not a "done deal", just an idea you're flirting with. I would also question why you have to say you're staying for three months if you're driving (ie: you don't have a return airline ticket to explain away). Seems to me two weeks worth of luggage would look much the same as three months worth.

QUESTION WORTH ASKING: how might a traveler in the USA alert the powers-that-be that his/her plans have changed? (ie: I said I was only traveling for a two weeks but now that I've found a free place to stay, I'd like to extend my trip for longer). Is this a strategy worth considering?
posted by philip-random at 9:22 AM on August 11, 2009


If you're planning to get married you may wish to consult and/or hire an immigration attorney. Getting your resident card is a time consuming morass of forms and appointments. If you have the extra $1000 or so it's very much worth it over wading through everything on your own. Plus, your attorney can give you advice on questions like this.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:29 AM on August 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


What sort of work do you do? The question that gets me hung up is "how can you afford to travel for x months without working?" They always want to know that you have a job/school/something to go back to. Practice answering that and have proof of same.

You've been through it once, so now you know what to expect when they pull you over again. Don't get flustered.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 9:30 AM on August 11, 2009


The pamphlet telling you your luggage had been searched is from homeland security. It is a random search; they aren't targeting you specifically.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 9:30 AM on August 11, 2009


Nthing don't lie. You don't need to answer questions that they're not actually asking you, but don't lie.

Not my business, but entering the US, marrying in the US, going back to Britain, and filing I130+K3 from there seems more complicated and lengthy and expensive than just applying for a K1.

It's certainly possible to enter under the VWP, marry an American, and leave. And it's certainly possible to do so with no significant problems with USCIS/ICE. Mutant and Dr. Mrs. His Wife did this not too long ago.

But it requires convincing the border agent that you're going back, which usually means showing that you have a real life back in Britain -- a job that expects you back, a home you own, stuff like that. If you're a no-assets unemployed 22 year old student -- and I'd guess you're something like that or you wouldn't be able to get 3 months off and then 3 months off again so quickly -- you are going to look pretty damn sketchy, because you really don't have much to lose.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:36 AM on August 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


Every time I ( female, Dutch) have been to the USA ( 4 times) I have been pulled out, searched, flagged, scanned, etc. I just add it to my travel time. I still, to this day, have no idea why. Went to see a friend all those times for not more then a week and 3 times I had a child at home, so no reason at all for me to stay in the US. They even searched my 3 y. old. Atlanta was most difficult for me, NYC and DC ok comming in. Atlanta, Ohio, NYC love to see you go, DC was trouble.

That time in DC they gave me a different flight, because my flight was cancelled due to a snowstorm. Just because of that I had "SS" on my ticket and boarding pass. Good thing about it was that they even took me on the plane, did not have to look for the gate myself. Would not leave me a second alone.

Do not lie, I always answer what they want to know, not about to give them information without being asked, but then again, I never felt like a chat with these people anyway.
Just take it as it comes, you have nothing to hide, you are doing nothing illegal, so feel welcomed as ever in the USA and let them do their job.
posted by kudzu at 9:46 AM on August 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


Ok, this is great stuff.

Be honest, buy be direct seems to be the overriding advice here. Don't offer information they don't ask for. That is more or less my modus operandi anyway, so that's not going to be a problem. I like philip-random's assertion that it's not a "done deal", which is true: we don't have a date or any plans in place yet. So it doesn't seem like the worst thing in the world if I omit that if they don't ask directly.

Showing that I have a reason to come back is a problem, as ROU_Xenophobe noted, but he's also rigt in his assertion that I'm going to have a hard time doing that. I don't go to school, I just lost my job (thus the timing of the trip), and I'm currently staying with my parents in an arrangement that is the very definition of temporary. I'd appreciate advice on what I can do to get around this, if there is any to be had, since I'm drawing a blank. I can probably put together some proof that I have been at least looking for work, but I doubt that's going to get me very far.

As far as showing how I intend to support myself/how I can afford this, I do quite a bit of online work. I write a blog that is moderately profitable, and work with another blog that is decidedly more profitable, and I do enough to web development work to keep some change in my pocket here and there. I can print Paypal receipts and bank statements to back this up, if it would help. I don't intend to do any of this work while I'm in the US.

It sounds like as long as I keep my cool, stay honest, and don't offer unnecessary information, I should be ok. As numerous people have said, I'm definitely not breaking any laws. I just have a terrible habit of overthinking things like this, and have managed to work myself into quite a frenzy of worry.
posted by nostrich at 10:04 AM on August 11, 2009


I traveled to the US to marry my American fiancée last March. Long story short: they're not telepaths, and as long as you don't have detailed wedding plans, dated invitations and a forehead tattoo that says MARRIAGE NEXT WEEK, there's no way they'll know you're going down there to get married.

The truth is that you're going down to visit your girlfriend.

What you do during that visit is entirely your business, and none of theirs.

You're not breaking any laws by getting married. You may not get married. Even you don't know with ironclad certainty that you are getting married. The most truthful thing you can say is you're going down there to visit your girlfriend. Beyond that lies the veil of mystery we call "the future."

I was asked what our marriage plans were, and I said that a primary reason I was going down to visit was to discuss the wedding. As it turns out, the discussion happened in front of a minister and a whole bunch of people, but it was a good conversation that ended in "I do." Again: that's as honest as you need to be.

Compelling reasons to return? What you need to do is show you have (a) personal investment and (b) obligations here. On my end, that was easy: a couple of recent pay stubs showing I was employed, my municipal tax bill (showing I'm a property owner), a few bills (showing I had commitments and obligations here). Staying for three months to "get your money's worth from the air fare" is actually a pretty compelling reason.

A passing thought: if you have any friends that own businesses or are managers in businesses, ask them to write letters on company stationery regarding upcoming job interviews you'll be going to upon your return. And, for the sake of honesty, sit down with them for a few minutes and do "job interviews" when you get back. Maybe over a couple of beers. The result may be that you don't get the job, that in an astonishing turn of events it comes to pass that they're fully staffed and you're not at all qualified for the position, but there's your reason to return. Your friends have written these things for you, so if they get a call asking if they've invited you for a job interview on X date, they can in all honesty say yes, and corroborate your reason for return. That's probably the best you can do as leverage against the admittedly slightly dubious "unemployed man entering the country for several months" factor.
posted by Shepherd at 10:21 AM on August 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


I just lost my job... [but] I do quite a bit of online work. I write a blog that is moderately profitable, and work with another blog that is decidedly more profitable, and I do enough to web development work to keep some change in my pocket here and there.

Q: What is your occupation?
A: I am a freelance writer.
posted by onshi at 10:21 AM on August 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


Shepherd: That is wonderful advice. I do have some friends that might be willing to do that for me.

I also have some recent bills for an Internet connection that I had forgotten was in my name (although I don't pay it), so I'll make sure I take them with me.

Onshi: Now why didn't I think of that?!
posted by nostrich at 10:29 AM on August 11, 2009


Nthing don't lie. Ever.

I'm pretty sure they will know that on your previous visit you said you were visiting your girlfriend, so saying "I'm visiting a friend for 3 months" this time will raise red flags immediately.

One thing people sometimes do is book their return trip for 1-2 weeks, then have a "change of plans" and change the booking once admitted. I doubt you could get away with this on multiple trips, but it sounds like you would only need to do it once.

Saying you are a freelance writer may raise red flags as well, as the onus may then be on you to prove you aren't planning on doing this during your trip. This is less important if you are only coming for 1-2 weeks initially.
posted by peanut butter milkshake at 11:08 AM on August 11, 2009


Q: What is your occupation?
A: I am a freelance writer.


I am ignorant on this, but I do remember that US immigration sent a woman from AUstralia right back to Australia who was a free-lance writer because she didn't have a visa (apparently you have to have some sort of work visa or researhc visa or something)

You might not actually *do* any free-lance writing while in the States, but I would check out whether it is a red flag or I am talking out of my rear end.
posted by xetere at 11:10 AM on August 11, 2009


they are just a general pain in the ass, even for those of us with jobs who renewed our passports (so they wouldn't be close to expiration) for a trip to the US. Having been there before our old and new passport numbers no longer matched ... cue hours of getting treated like crap - believe me I won't be going back to spend any dollars any time soon.
posted by fistynuts at 11:38 AM on August 11, 2009


Primarily, they are not worried about you getting married, they are worried about you
1- overstaying your visa, or disappearing entirely withing the United States,
2- getting in trouble with immigration law, or with the law of the land in general,
3- becoming a burden on the institutions, such as running out of money and showing up at a shelter.

Meeting a girlfriend is a red flag for #1, saying "3 month" when the rule is 90 days is a red flag for #2 (you don't have a good sense of the rules), having only 200$ on you is a red flag for #3.

So here's what you are going to do.

Don't lie. These guys are much better at fetching out lies than you are at lying. They are pros, you are not.

Bring paper. These guys love paper documentation. Anything that make it easier to fetch out a lie (if there is one) makes their job easier. Feed them.

Assume they have the entire event of your prior meetings recorded. Expect the following sequence: - Who are you visiting? - A friend. - Is this friend female? They know what happened last time and they will try to catch you lying about it.

Study the rules that apply to your case and be ready to recite them. End your sentences with 'sir.' Shows that you respect the law and have all intention to abide to its letter.


> Ridiculously, at one point, he alse noted that I seemed nervous and asked why.

Of course he would ask this question. This is not a casual conversation. It is an interrogation by a law enforcement officer who's trying to trip you into reveling your lies (if any). Act accordingly.
posted by gmarceau at 11:44 AM on August 11, 2009


When I used to fly to the US to visit my late fiancé and his family in Ohio, I'd always be asked "How do you know these people?" My stock answer was "Through the church" and that would be the end of that line of questioning.

Note: I do not go to church or even believe in God, but was told by someone who travels a lot that Immigration officers will not quiz people about religious beliefs for fear of lawsuits. How true that is, I don't know, but it always worked for me. I'll qualify that - they will generally not question a white, middle-aged, middle-class, English-speaking, UK passport-holding, conservatively-dressed woman about what appear to Christian beliefs. Non-white, foreign Muslims might find their experience to be rather different.
posted by essexjan at 11:48 AM on August 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


Even if you don't want to contact a lawyer right now have a lawyer's contact info handy. You can find one through the American Immigration Lawyer Association's lawyer finder website. You might also want to give the contact information to your girlfriend in case your plane lands and you don't come through the gate.

Other than that, my advice is the consensus: be honest, answer their questions, keep it simple.
posted by Kattullus at 11:49 AM on August 11, 2009


Ok, don't listen to everyone who says you have to be totally honest. That is ridiculous and it makes you seem even more nervous than you may be. Answer the questions asked. Don't outright lie, but don't offer any free information either.

Why are you here:
Holiday

Where are you staying:
With a friend

How long are you here for:
2.5 months (this way they don't have to discuss the 90 day limit)

Answer other questions as they come up, but don't imply any information that you don't have to.
posted by scrutiny at 11:58 AM on August 11, 2009


If you have already purchased a return ticket, I'd suggest making sure you have that documentation with you (a printed itinerary from your travel service, even - anything showing the date and flight number should work). Don't say "three months" - when they ask how long your visit is, give them the return flight date and show the documentation.
posted by caution live frogs at 12:10 PM on August 11, 2009


Something else that you might want to consider is flying via Dublin or Shannon, where you go through US immigration. That way, if they don't let you in, you haven't flown 7+ hours and don't have to fly 7+ hours back.
posted by peanut butter milkshake at 12:30 PM on August 11, 2009


I skipped most answers, and so it is likely this has already been said, but it's worth repeating:

DO NOT come to the US on a tourist visa with the intention of getting married! If you are caught, you could be barred from the US for LIFE (it might not be that bad... I may be misremembering, at any rate, VERY VERY BAD).

The law is funny, though. You can enter on a tourist visa, THEN decide to get married, and that is okay. But if it's premeditated, that's very bad. I don't know who the burden of proof is on, but definitely don't risk it.

You need to do more research before you make a big mistake. I recommend visajourney.com : they have nice guides and forums, and they helped me (an American) with my marriage to my foreign-born wife.
posted by where u at dawg at 12:39 PM on August 11, 2009


^^go through US immigration before flying
posted by peanut butter milkshake at 12:57 PM on August 11, 2009


DO NOT come to the US on a tourist visa with the intention of getting married!

It's perfectly legal to enter the US on a tourist visa or under the VWP and marry an American citizen in the US... so long as you leave again while still in status. The only difficult part is convincing the border agent that you intend to get married and then nigh on immediately leave for home.

You're thinking of people who enter on a tourist visa or VWP, marry, and then file for AOS. That last part is the thing that's emphatically frowned upon.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:58 PM on August 11, 2009


If you are coming into the US on a tourist visa with the intent to get married then you are violating the intent part of the visa. You'll not only be lying to Immigration if you state your intent otherwise - but you'll have to also answer questions multiple times later if you plan to adjust status and/or naturalize that will ask if you've ever lied to Immigrations, etc.

If caught - at any point in the process - the consequences can be harsh, including denial of AOS, deportation, and denial of naturalization.

I would suggest you do the K-1 route - your time apart is probably shorter than K-3.

I wouldn't lie to Immigration, but if you do you are setting both of you up to have to lie and possibly get caught numerous times to come in your process - don't do it.

There are a ton of people on sites like visajourney, etc that are doing things by the book and they'll most likely tell you the same thing. There's not much tolerance for those trying to cut corners.

If I missed something in your question that is aboveboard and you aren't asking how to circumvent Immigration for the purpose of marrying on a tourist visa, then my apologies, but that's what it sounds like.

With respect to your original question. Your red flags were:
Girlfriend (they are suspicious of marrying and staying on tourist visa)
3 month stay with only 200$ on you - how are you going to pay for 3 months in the US on 200 bucks. They'll want to see that you have some means to spend that much time here without working illegally here to support yourself.

They will have records of your entries, what you said the first time you were detained, etc. (they make notes - as they did when my now wife got pulled aside before we did our K-1) They will see you entered this time as a tourist and then if you apply for a k-3 that's not gonna match up with you being here on a tourist (not marriage) visa yet having a marriage certificate that says you got married here during that same time. I'd expect they will ask questions about that during the k-3 process. In all our dealings with Immigration (my wife is now a US citizen) - the one note through the whole thing is how much they stress being honest with Immigration - and it implies how much they hate being lied to, again, I would not risk it.
posted by clanger at 12:58 PM on August 11, 2009


If you are coming into the US on a tourist visa with the intent to get married then you are violating the intent part of the visa.

No, you are not. You are violating the relevant intent if you enter the US on a tourist visa or VWP with the intention of taking up immediate residence in the US.

It's really not that uncommon for American expats to come back into the US with their schmoopy, get hitched, and leave for their foreign home again.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 1:06 PM on August 11, 2009


Personally, every time I've gone through US immigration, I'm asked who I'm staying with and seeing, I say "my girlfriend in Ohio", they nod at me, and let me through without a problem. And I'm not even a white Brit. (I'm a Chinese Brit)

The one time they sent me into a side office *years* ago, I had no idea why. But they ran some background checks on me, and let me go. Must have been the Michael Moore book I had in my bag.

The chances are, if they pulled you aside and did a detailed check on you and you came up clean, you might be ok for next time.

Having said that, have more than $200 to your name. Or at least a credit card with a large limit.

And don't get married in the US without a K-1 visa. Why would you want to awaken the sleeping dragon that is US immigration?
posted by almostwitty at 1:39 PM on August 11, 2009


Sorry ROU_Xenophobe,

But entering on a B-2 (tourist) visa with intent to marry isn't "non-immigrant" intent.
So yes, (he is) violating the intent part of the visa.
I may be mistaken but I don't think there is any "immediate residence" part to the intent test.
I'm fairly certain if he showed up on a B-2 and said yep, I'm here to get married, and then go home and apply for a K-3, he'd find himself on the next flight out.
posted by clanger at 2:05 PM on August 11, 2009


clanger, and everyone else that's said the same thing: it is definitely not illegal to do what I am doing. Maybe I wasn't clear enough, but I'm entering under the Visa Waiver Program, not on a tourist visa. Even so -- though I am definitely not the authority here -- I'm not convinced it's illegal even with a tourist visa.

To reiterate: I am entering under the VWP, marrying my girlfriend, and then leaving again and filing for a K-3 visa. It is 100% legal.

Also, I know the K-1 is probably a better idea, but this is what we've decided is best for us.
posted by nostrich at 2:17 PM on August 11, 2009


I had exactly this happen to me, big questioning thing, same answers given, wave through after several hours. The next time I came in (as in the time you're planning) they turned me round and sent me back and so ended my ability to come to the US on a tourist visa ever again and so began a ling and dreary process of getting a visa. (Relevant blog post on long dead travel blog here)

4 years and a lot of separation time later I live in NYC and I'm married but I had to do the K1 thing.

Really.

Do the K1 thing.
posted by merocet at 2:42 PM on August 11, 2009


Mefimail me if you have any other questions. Oh and obligatory link to the very excellent visajourney.com
posted by merocet at 2:45 PM on August 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


But entering on a B-2 (tourist) visa with intent to marry isn't "non-immigrant" intent.

I don't know why you think that. It's nonimmigrant intent if you intend to leave within the term of your B2.

To be sure, it might be difficult to convince the consular agent adjudicating your particular visa application that you don't have immigrant intent, but that's a far, far cry from it being the case that intending to marry a US citizen invariably constitutes immigrant intent invalidating a B2 visa no matter how much contrary evidence is provided or how strong that evidence is.

Do you know of any DoS, USCIS, or ICE statements that clearly state that B2-holders cannot under any circumstances marry US citizens and then depart?
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 2:55 PM on August 11, 2009


I know the K-1 is probably a better idea, but this is what we've decided is best for us.

I don't know you from Adam's housecat, and when push comes to shove I really don't give a shit what you do. It's your funeral.

But, dude, that's like literally irrational.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 2:59 PM on August 11, 2009


Please consult an immigration attorney far in advance of your visit. You don't want to screw up your chances of properly obtaining a permanent resident status (green card) here or otherwise render yourself ineligible for entry in the US for seven to ten years. Don't just make up a plan that seems to gel with your limited understanding of a complex legal issue.

Please consult an immigration attorney.
posted by Burhanistan at 3:02 PM on August 11, 2009


I am an attorney, I am not your attorney.

Please consult an immigration attorney before attempting to enter the US. You've already been flagged for special scrutiny. Immigration officials have enormous leeway to determine your fate, and they can act with near impunity when it comes to foreigners trying to enter the US. You are risking being rendered ineligible for entry for 7 or more years. That is a huge risk to take.

It seems like you understand what the proper procedural steps are, you just don't want to follow them.

How willing is your girlfriend to relocate to the UK to be with you? Because that's what might be in your future.

Seriously, dude, talk to an immigration attorney.
posted by ambrosia at 3:35 PM on August 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


I stand by my earlier advice, but amend it to say (a) I was getting married and returning to Canada with my freshly minted wife; (b) when we were investigating options and looking at me possibly settling Stateside, the K-1 really was the best of all available options.
posted by Shepherd at 3:44 PM on August 11, 2009


And yeah, I'd agree that even if it's legal to enter the country, marry, and leave, you face a high probability of being denied entry and other worse consequences, and that the plan as you describe is, for someone who's going to look as sketchy to a border agent as you will, really really unwise.

To answer your specific question, there's not much you can do to avoid a hassle because you look exactly like someone trying to immigrate to the US without applying for immigration. The suspicion the border agents treated you with wasn't an aberration; it was entirely rational. The easiest way to avoid that is to apply for immigration.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:04 PM on August 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


ROU_Xenophobe

But entering on a B-2 (tourist) visa with intent to marry isn't "non-immigrant" intent.

I don't know why you think that. It's nonimmigrant intent if you intend to leave within the term of your B2.


I see your point, This site addresses it by what appear to be lawyers.
From the OP's question my assumption is that he still plans to eventually immigrate, hence my thoughts about intent under B-1.

But from the linked discussion - it does seem open to debate - and your point about returning makes sense. I think we both agree it would be difficult to convince consular or immigration that he will return to do a K-3, especially given his situation posted in another ask.mefi question.

Havent found anything specifically against this method on USCIS or ICE sites (man their search functions suck) but I'll agree it's possible to do.
I'll still hold my opinion that I think it isn't the recommended or even the best chance for success what he's asking and planning to do, I still think K-1 would be way faster.

I will add, from my own experience. If you come in under K-1 - that visa serves as proof of work authorization, at least for the purpose of getting a Social Security number and card. It becomes void AFTER you marry within 90 days - then you are under the AOS process and must apply for conditional greencard for proof of work authorization - the wait for that is not short so you could work under K-1 then theres the gap till green card arrives.

We saw many friends here that waited till after marriage to apply for SS# and they had to wait till greencard arrived to get it. This is a pain, at least here in Texas, where they want a SS card to apply for driver license. My wife got hers since we did the SS# as soon as she arrived on K-1 and her license was no problem while others we knew were waiting 6+ months for AOS/greencard.
posted by clanger at 6:03 PM on August 11, 2009


I'll still hold my opinion that I think it isn't the recommended or even the best chance for success what he's asking and planning to do

Oh, I infinitely agree that it's a dumb way for these two to do it, especially since a K1 is really pretty quick and painless.

I could just imagine other couples being able to pull it off, is all.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:18 PM on August 11, 2009


Just commenting to nth my support for the K1 visa, as someone just about at the end of the process (green card interview in 2 days). You can still visit your girlfriend in the US while you're waiting to hear back from the embassy, and despite the mountain of paperwork, it is a really straightforward process if you're in a genuine relationship. Whereas the method you're describing is clumsy and wrought with potential pitfalls. It's not worth the stress and potential banhammer from the country (which is either 1 year or 3 years and will impact your green card application - you can still get denied residency despite being approved for the visa) if you're trying to forge a long term life with your partner in the US.

A couple of tips on the K process in general, just while I'm here - visajourney.com will save your life, it will cost $3000+, make sure you're fully vaccinated before you leave the UK because the hassle when you get here is insane, the people that do the medical for the US embassy are really accommodating... and good luck!
posted by saturnine at 8:09 PM on August 11, 2009


I guess I should have previewed.

Everyone else has said this but if you're hell bent on the K3 visa, just don't mention anything about marriage or that you're visiting your girlfriend. But don't lie if they ask, and be prepared to be deported and probably banned from the country.
posted by saturnine at 8:16 PM on August 11, 2009


Just as an addendum, do NOT travel with computers or anything valuable in your check-ig luggage to the USA. Unlike the UK, baggage handlers and security screeners are not supervised well or searched routinely on exit. US airports are notorious for stuff going missing from your luggage. Just see these Consumerist links. Carry any valuables on the plane with you.
posted by Susurration at 8:18 PM on August 11, 2009


Everyone else has said this but if you're hell bent on the K3 visa, just don't mention anything about marriage or that you're visiting your girlfriend.

His girlfriend and so on is probably in their records now, so they're likely to ask.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:56 PM on August 11, 2009


I told him $200

This person person does not have enough money to survive 3 months. Without an alternative source of funds, I need to find out whether they are secretly intending to work while in this country or whether the person they are intending to visit will be supporting them.
posted by Sutekh at 1:18 AM on August 12, 2009


there's not much you can do to avoid a hassle because you look exactly like someone trying to immigrate to the US without applying for immigration

Yes. This.

Think about it - you are a young guy, you were just in the US from March to June visiting your girlfriend, now you're trying to come back from August to November, only have $700, carrying loads of luggage including a desktop computer, no job to return to, no mortgage to return to, no kids to return to, no schooling to return to....

I'm sorry, but I wouldn't let you in. Would you let yourself in? It's not just sketchy criminal or terrorist types who get refused entry. I don't think immigration look too kindly on people using the VWP as a "hang out with my GF" visa. It is meant for tourism or business.
posted by peanut butter milkshake at 2:48 AM on August 12, 2009


His girlfriend and so on is probably in their records now, so they're likely to ask.

I entered the US three times under the same conditions as the OP, and at least once after I'd stated I was visiting my boyfriend, and I was never asked any specifically personal questions like that. Most of the task of convincing immigration you're telling the truth is having the paperwork to prove it, and being open and honest. Even if it's after a 13 hour flight.

Having said that, I still think it's a risky plan. This whole K process is hard enough without blemishes on your record.
posted by saturnine at 6:07 PM on August 12, 2009


I don't think immigration look too kindly on people using the VWP as a "hang out with my GF" visa.

That's rubbish, there are no problems with using the visa waiver system to go and hang out with people. Immigration only care about whether you're going to overstay your welcome.
posted by saturnine at 6:09 PM on August 12, 2009


I don't think immigration look too kindly on people using the VWP as a "hang out with my GF" visa.


That's rubbish, there are no problems with using the visa waiver system to go and hang out with people. Immigration only care about whether you're going to overstay your welcome.

But Immigration will probably infer or deduce that "hanging out with the GF" W/O a job means that you *are* going to overstay your welcome. Hell w/o knowing the particulars, I'd deduce that too, I'd be right much more often than I'd be wrong.

So for all the argument about whether or not OP has a right on a VWP to come and hang out w gf or to come and jerk off to the morning sun coming over the Atlantic, OP must *prove* to Immigration that he is likely to go back whence he came. They are not very trusting people, and they are not nice.

We can bitch about how US Immigration are jack-booted thugs, and we'd probably be right, but OP wants to know how NOT to get detained at customs. I am a US-ian so I don't have first hand experience, but having a lot of luggage, a laptop, only $700.00 or so and saying you are visiting a 'friend" who turns out to be a very special friend whom you will marry in the US will practically guarantee - when it comes out - that OP WILL get detained, and go right back on the firstl flight to LHR (or LGW or MAN)
posted by xetere at 8:14 PM on August 12, 2009


That's rubbish, there are no problems with using the visa waiver system to go and hang out with people.

You're right, of course you can use the VWP to hang out with people. I've had a BF do this to visit me. I've done the same going to the UK. I was saying that the immigration officials don't look too kindly on it, especially not for two lots of 90 days within 9 months as the OP is planning on doing. I wouldn't go so far as to say there are "no problems" with using the VWP in this way.

Most of the task of convincing immigration you're telling the truth is having the paperwork to prove it

I wholeheartedly agree with you, saturnine. I'm just not sure what paperwork the OP can use to prove he is going back to the UK after his stay. Even if he was applying for K-1 and visiting while he was waiting for it to be approved - that would be an improvement on the current situation, as at least that shows he's prepared to immigrate to the country through the proper channels. At the moment, he really has nothing to prove to immigration officials that he will leave at the end of his stay other than a return plane ticket.

Bottom line is, what he is planning on doing is perfectly legal. Will he be allowed in? That's (as seen in this thread) debatable.

As for the original question, I think booking a return flight for 1-2 weeks is something that may make being held up at immigration less likely. If you decide to stay longer, change the flight later.
posted by peanut butter milkshake at 1:54 AM on August 13, 2009


Since the OP is already planning to return to the U.K., spend money on a K-3 visa and then on another flight, in order to enter the U.S. and immigrate legally, he has already accepted the extra expense and indefinite time apart from his new wife that this entails. So on the surface of it, especially since at the time of posting no explicit wedding plans existed, it would make as much sense to just make this trip a normal visit, then return on K-1 in the future.
posted by galaksit at 12:05 PM on August 13, 2009


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