In recent months there have been multiple reports that some H-1B workers arriving at Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey have been questioned extensively by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers about their employment in the United States.  In some cases H-1B workers have been refused entry and/or had their visas cancelled.  CBP headquarters has since confirmed that most of these incidents occurred as part of an enforcement action involving companies that are under investigation for immigration violations, presumably involving fraudulent H-1B petitions or inadequate documentation.  Based on the types of questions being asked by CBP, there are also indications of increased scrutiny of H-1B workers who are employed by consulting firms, based on the January 2010 Neufeld memo discussed in our previous blog entry Indian nationals who are employed by consulting firms appear to be the primary targets of these enforcement efforts.

CBP officials in Newark have also informed immigration attorneys of a new policy to carry out random checks of returning H-1B and L-1 visa holders to determine if they are truly entering the United States to engage in authorized employment activities.  These random checks reportedly involve a few additional questions about the traveler’s employment during the primary inspection, and referral to secondary inspection if the officer believes further questioning is warranted.  Although there have been no widespread reports of similar issues occurring at other international airports in the United States, visa holders and their employers should anticipate that similar practices will be seen elsewhere in the months and years to come.

While the vast majority of foreign nationals with work visas routinely enter the United States without incident, these reports offer an opportunity to remind individuals and their employers to plan ahead before making international travel plans.  Knowing in advance what questions may be asked and what documents may be requested by CBP will help to avoid misunderstandings, delays or other more serious problems from developing.  Your company’s immigration attorney can identify specific risks that are more likely to occur with different types of visas, travel plans and employment situations, and help you to develop strategies to help make the admission process go as smoothly as possible.