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Innocents Abroad: Emergency at the Border—Key Considerations

From:             Ned Help

To:                  Carrie Counselor

Date:               April 21, 2016

Subject:          URGENT: Employee Detained at the Airport?


What an afternoon!  When Winston Wild’s manager called me, indicating that he was detained at Pearson International Airport, we did not know what to do, which is why I called you.

Thank you for calling Winston Wild so quickly and explaining that he was only delayed and placed in Secondary Inspection.  This scare made me realize that I have little understanding about what our employees might experience at the airport and what could go wrong.  When you have a moment, please explain what you mean by “secondary inspection” and strategies we can employ internally when something goes awry at the airport.

From:             Carrie Counselor

To:                  Ned Help

Date:               April 21, 2016

Subject:          Re: URGENT: Employee Detained at the Airport?



You are not alone.  Many employers assume that after the tedious process of securing work authorization and/or the visa that everything else will go smoothly.

Unfortunately, things do not always go perfectly.  After filing a petition with local immigration authorities and/or applying for a visa at a consulate abroad, everyone is inspected by the country’s border officials.  In the U.S., this process is conducted by a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer at the airport.

In most cases, all border officials are looking to establish the following for entry:

  1. Purpose of stay;
  2. Appropriate visa type and documents required for the individual to enter the country;
  3. Whether the individual is in possession of the required documents;
  4. Length of time the individual should be allowed to remain in the country; and
  5. Whether the individual is admissible or inadmissible.

If an officer at the port of entry cannot verify the information of the individual during the initial inspection, or if the individual does not have all of the required documentation, an officer may direct him/her to an interview area known in many countries, including the U.S., as “secondary inspection.” At that point, the individual is not being detained or arrested.  While certain adverse findings made in secondary inspection could result in denied admission, secondary inspection itself simply allows officers to conduct additional research in order to verify the applicant’s information.

Some examples of common and possible scenarios at Secondary Inspection are described below:

  1. Random Selection and/or confirmation of information. An officer may randomly select an individual for a more in-depth biographic information review of fingerprints, identity, criminal records, etc.
  2. Visa type. An officer may determine that the individual does not have the proper visa based on the stated activities, length of stay, or nature of in-country contacts.
  3. Information given by the applicant is inconsistent with the underlying petition filed with the government or supporting documents.
  4. Officer determines that the individual is not in possession of proper documentation, which may include an employment verification letter, pay stubs, proof of return flight, etc.

What to do if your employee is placed in secondary inspection:

  • Employees should have the name and telephone number of the immigration attorney, HR Partner, or Visa and Immigration Team member at all times during the applicant’s international travel. These professionals may be able to speak with the official and clarify or confirm some of the information.
  • In the case of work permits, it is advisable for employees to confirm with their company contact that all the information, including job title, duties and location is up-to-date. If there is inaccurate information, immigration counsel should be contacted to determine whether an amendment should be filed prior to international travel.
  • All travelers should make sure they have all the required documents before traveling, and ensure that passports are valid for at least 6 months beyond the period of intended stay.

Ned, I hope this information helps.  As always, please feel free to contact me with any questions.


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Angel Feng

Special Counsel

Angel Feng is a Mintz Special Counsel whose practice focuses on immigration matters. She counsels corporations and their employees on the processing of non-immigrant and immigrant visa petitions, including H-1B, L-1A, L-1B, E-3, TN, P-1, O-1, E-1, E-2, PERM, EB-1, EB-2, and EB-3.