Miscategorized as a student visa violator
December 16, 2010 3:31 PM   Subscribe

How to stop getting stopped when I legally enter the US with my Green Card? Immigration officers pull me out of line and claim I am a former student visa violator. But, they won't tell me how to learn more or fix this. Help!

I first came to the US when I was on a J-1 visa. I did everything by the book (as far I can tell). I moved back to my country (Finland) for a few years, then got a marriage-based Green Card. I thought everything was fine.

HOWEVER. Every single time I return to the US from a short trip abroad, I get pulled out of the immigration line, have to go to a back room, and sit there till they say I can go (with no info about what I supposedly have done wrong).

Today they finally slipped and said I am a "former student visa violator". How is this possible? I did everything I was supposed to do and never overstayed. They always eventually let me in, but this is really a problem. When I ask an officer what is wrong, they refuse to give me any more info or anyone to contact to clear this up.

The only scenarios I can think of are:
- the school I was at forgot to do some paperwork
- the institute of international education (IIE) who sponsors J-1s forgot or has something to do with it
- someone made a mistake in some computer somewhere
- some paperwork is missing somewhere (but why did I get a GC then?)

Any tips or people who have been in this situation before and how the heck to clear it up?
posted by Doggiebreath to Law & Government (14 answers total)
I suggest talking to an immigration attorney. The attorney will probably need to look over your paperwork - there's really not much we can do with the information you provided.
posted by insectosaurus at 3:43 PM on December 16, 2010 [4 favorites]

The only thing I can think of from your description, is that you didn't turn in your I94 when leaving the country. This would leave a note for second screening every time you walk through. If so, the only thing I think you can do is have plenty of time for connecting flights and wear clean underwear...
posted by brorfred at 3:54 PM on December 16, 2010

I would get an immigration lawyer and ask them about the particulars of your case, and whether they have a way to get access to the records so you can fix whatever the problem is.
posted by LobsterMitten at 3:55 PM on December 16, 2010

Maybe there's just a Visa violator with the same name as you? My wife, an American citizen, often gets grief over some other woman with the same name. It has even come close to spoiling a trip or two.
posted by JaredSeth at 4:28 PM on December 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

There's a form you can file that let's you request your casefiles. I can't remember which one, but you can ask USCIS.

Either way, Visa FAQ has a pretty good overview page.
posted by Kattullus at 5:05 PM on December 16, 2010

Seconding not turning in an I94 at some stage. You may be able to find out more by making an appointment with a local office and talking to a supervisor. Assuming this is stemming from lack of documentation from your departure, you may want to have some documentation available that you were back in Finland after your visa ran out (employment records, passport with visits to other countries, etc) Unfortunately, this is an issue that will likely never be resolved for you. The best you can hope for would be a letter from an immigration official explaining the supposed problem and perhaps speeding up the border agents investigation, but you will likely still be detained.

I was told by the supervisor once that the counter agents are likely to flag you for additional screening if for no other reasons than you have been flagged numerous times before and they do not want to be the one to miss a possible reason you were previously flagged.
posted by Yorrick at 6:11 PM on December 16, 2010

Nthing lawyer up with a specialist in the field. They'll know how to get hold of your case file and advise you further based on that.
posted by immlass at 8:23 PM on December 16, 2010

If you have been married for at least three years you can apply for citizenship. Once you are a citizen, you will then travel on a US passport and they won't bother you any more.
posted by MsKim at 9:28 PM on December 16, 2010

Best answer: i'm stopped every single time i enter the USA. the last time this happened i filed a complaint with the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) Traveler Redress Inquiry Program (TRIP), and got a response from the DHS three months letter in the form of a letter which, i kid you not, managed to say absolutely nothing in four paragraphs.

i haven't been back to the US since filling on this form so i have no idea if it's improved my chances of entering (the last time i entered an immigration officer let something slip by asking me if i had ever served in a national armed force). YMMV.
posted by asymptotic at 5:49 AM on December 17, 2010

sorry, i should have made it clear that i always, eventually, enter the USA, so my chances of entering (so far) are 100%, but with a four-six hour delay, which, let's be honest, not every book can help pass.
posted by asymptotic at 5:51 AM on December 17, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks everyone. I'll file the DHS TRIP paperwork and then contact my old school and IIE (my J-1 visa sponsor) for a SEVIS check. Will post an update at some point...
posted by Doggiebreath at 3:13 PM on December 17, 2010

Response by poster: Ok, here we are again:

- 5 months have gone by since I sent in my TRIP inquiry.
- I have only received a formal statement, which confirmed that they are "processing" my inquiry.
- I have entered the US once after I sent in my inquiry, and nothing has changed (eg, they still pulled me out of line to go to the little room).

I am really interested in seeing how long it will take to receive the final outcome. I am pretty sure I know what the outcome will be though. :)

- I will follow the case further, and report more later on.

posted by Doggiebreath at 4:02 PM on May 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: YESTERDAY, a bit more than 7 months after I started my TRIP inquiry, I received the final answer. It did not reveal the ultimate reason, but stated that there assumably was some sort of mistake in my account. I was given a code number that I am to use from now on, to avoid further problems.

The service was a good in a sense that I got a reasonable answer and my problem fixed. I will report one more time, once I have entered the US next time.

posted by Doggiebreath at 9:06 AM on July 17, 2011

That is wonderful news! Thanks for updating!
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:11 AM on July 17, 2011

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