A blog about U.S. immigration matters by Paul Szeto, a former INS attorney and an experienced immigration attorney and counsel. Contact Info: 732-632-9888, http://www.1visa1.com/ (All information is not legal advice and is subject to change without prior notice.)

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Immigration and Custom Issues for Summer Travelers

Every summer, many people including foreign students and temporary workers travel to other countries for vacation or business reasons. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) remind summer travelers that U.S. citizens traveling abroad must have approved travel documents when returning home. U.S. and Canadian citizens who are 16 and older are required to present a valid, acceptable travel document that proves both identity and citizenship when entering the U.S. by land or sea. Travelers who are under 16 may present a birth certificate or alternative proof of citizenship when entering by land or sea. These documents may include: U.S. or Canadian passports, Trusted Traveler Card, U.S. Passport Card, State or province-issued Enhanced Driver’s Licenses (when and where available).

Permanent residents, asylees, refugees, etc., of the United States should bring their Permanent Resident Card (I-551) or “green card” with them. For other temporary visitors of the U.S. such as students and temporary workers, they should their passport, a valid visa, I-94, H-1B approval notices, I-20s, etc., when traveling internationally. Some visitors such as TN and H-1B workers must also bring employment verification letters and other supporting documentation. Applicants with pending green card applications must bring their approved advance parole travel document before departure. Otherwise, their applications will be considered abandoned. Additionally, one must also bring travel documents (e.g., a visa) required for the destination countries.

International travelers must be prepared to declare all items acquired abroad. Keep all receipts in an envelope to make it easier to complete the custom declaration form and to clear custom. When arriving at the airport, they should be ready for the inspection process before approaching at the inspection booth and have their approved travel documents available for the inspection. If they need to bring fruits, meats, dairy/poultry products and firewood into the U.S. from Canada, they should first check whether they are allowed. In general, the federal government does not allow you to import wild animals into the United States that were taken, killed, sold, possessed or exported from another country if any of these acts violated foreign laws. Some states have even tighter regulations. Generally, the CBP does not recommend that travelers bring fruits and vegetables into the U.S. Whether fruits or vegetables are allowed to be brought into the U.S. depends on several factors such as the country of origin, the destination, personal or commercial use, etc. If one fails to declare agricultural items at U.S. ports of entry, the fine is $300 for the first time. The penalty for the second violation goes up to $500.

The Visa Waiver Program (VWP) is still active for countries such as Japan, Korea, France, England, etc. All nationals or citizens of VWP countries are now required to have an approved Electronic System for Travel Authorization prior to boarding a carrier to travel by air or sea to the U.S. under the VWP.

Travelers with pets or minors should also take special precautions. Some pets such as dogs may require proof of rabies vaccinations. For minor children who are traveling without their parents, notarized travel permission letters should be prepared for them to avoid misunderstanding. If you need medication, only bring enough for the trip and keep it in the original container. If you’re traveling with new electronic items that were purchased during the last six months, bring the original receipts with you. Likewise, travelers with a lot of new jewelry should bring with them receipts or appraisals.

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