Border Security: America’s Front Line – Season 1, Episode 11

In this episode of Border Security two segments show travelers from Canada applying for admission to the US in visitor status. In one segment, the travelers were able to convince the inspecting officer that they would only be engaged in legitimate activities while in the US. In the other, the evidence the traveler presented suggested that he would engage in unauthorized employment, and thus his application for admission was denied.

The Hikers

The TV narrative

Three Canadian¹ college students en route to Mt. Baker were referred to secondary inspection. The questions related to the car that they were driving because it belonged to a friend of one of the students.

“Does he know you have it?”

“Yes.”

“Did he say it was ok for you to drive it across the border?”

“Yes.”

“Did he give you a letter that says you are authorized to drive his car in a foreign country?”

“He didn’t give me a letter.”

“Why not?”

And, then, after an awkward silence, “how do I know you didn’t steal it and he hasn’t reported it stolen yet?” The officer almost begins to smile after asking this question, then instructs the three Canadian students to sit on the bench while he inspects the vehicle. After checking the vehicle against a database of cars reported stolen, the inspecting officer admits them to the United States.

The Law

Section 101(a)(15)(B) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (“INA”) and section 214.2(b) of the Code of Federal Regulations define non-immigrant visitor status. US Customs and Border Protection’s (“CBP”) Inspectors Field Manual explains how this agency interprets the law. Every applicant for admission to the United States in visitor status must be able to demonstrate that he or she:

  1. has a residence outside the US that he or she does not intend to abandon,
  2. is entering the United States temporarily, and
  3. will engage only in legitimate activities while in the United States.

What happened here

Since these applicants for admission were college students in Canada, there was likely little, if any concern over whether they met the first two requirements. As seen on TV, the inspecting officer wanted to make sure they were engaging in legitimate activities, namely lawful possession and operation of the vehicle they were using. After he checked the status of the vehicle to confirm that it was not reported stolen, this concern was addressed and they were admitted to the United States.

The Draftsman

TV Narrative

On his way to North Carolina by way of the Blue Water Bridge port of entry in Michigan a Canadian draftsman was referred to secondary inspection. His reason for visiting the United States was that his boss asked him to come down and meet with a manager. According to the traveler, he draws “process layouts” for a Canadian company and its sister plant in North Carolina. The inspecting officer appeared to be concerned that he would be working in the US, despite assurances from the traveler that “these are just meetings.”

According to the inspecting officer, “he didn’t have a visa. He only had a very vague business letter that didn’t specify exactly what he was going to be doing.” This letter also stated that the traveler was coming to the US to do “consulting.” Further inspection and questioning revealed that this traveler had been refused admission the US before because CBP though he was “comin’ in to take somebody’s job.” Additionally, CBP officers discovered that he was not truly an employee of the Canadian company, but rather an independent contractor. Based on the information that the inspecting officer had, she determined that this traveler may require a work visa, and told him that he cannot “consult with a United States company without prior visas.”

The Law

As noted above, applicants for admission to the US in visitor status must show a residence abroad that they do not intend to abandon, temporary travel to the US, and legitimate activities while in the US. “Legitimate activities” while in the US includes declining unauthorized employment. Although coming to the US to “consult with business associates” is specifically authorized by the the Inspector’s Field Manual, almost all paid work is prohibited in visitor status.

What happened here

Many business travelers can unwittingly cross the line between legitimate meetings with business associates and unauthorized employment. Here, it appears that the Canadian traveler was involved in drafting the plans for an industrial operation in North Carolina. U.S. immigration law permits him to be admitted as a visitor for meetings with managers and viewing the space he is designing. The problem is that it’s too easy for him to open up his laptop and continue editing his drafting plans while he’s there. Once he takes this step, he’s crossed the line into unauthorized employment territory.

The letter this traveler presented in support of his application for admission to the US did not specifically describe his activities, except that he would be “consulting.” Combined with the ease of performing hands-on professional work in this case, the evidence he presented was insufficient to convince the inspecting officer that he would only be engaged in legitimate activities  in the US. Accordingly, his application for admission was denied.

Conclusion

Applicants for admission to the United States in visitor status must show (1) a residence abroad that they do not intend to abandon, (2) plans for a temporary stay in the US, and (3) that they will engage only in legitimate activities. “Legitimate activities” includes not only the obvious (e.g. not driving a stolen car) but also declining unauthorized employment. In this episode of Border Patrol, officers were able to confirm that the Canadian college students met the requirements for visitor status after checking their friends car against the database of stolen vehicles. The Canadian draftsman on the other hand was denied admission as a visitor because he could not demonstrate that he would not be engaged in unauthorized employment.

¹ The narrator describes them as Canadian, but their passports look like they were issued by a different country.

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