When some foreign nationals hear “Deferred Inspection,” they may understandably feel a sense of anxiety or dread. But while “Deferred Inspection” does have a somewhat ominous sound, this process, not to be confused with “secondary inspection,” actually has the potential to be quite useful and helpful for many foreign nationals.
When foreign nationals arrive at a US port of entry, normally a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer will inspect the foreign national’s relevant documentation (passport, visa stamp, I-797 approval notice, for example) to confirm their immigration status and admit them to the US in that status (this is referred to as "primary inspection"). In some circumstances, however, the documentation presented by the foreign national at primary inspection may not allow the inspecting CBP officer to come to an immediate decision concerning the foreign national's immigration status. Consequently, the inspecting officer may then either: 1) refer the foreign national to secondary inspection, where CBP officers will further review the foreign national’s status; or 2) they may admit the foreign national to the US but schedule an appointment for them to appear at a Deferred Inspection Site on a future date so the foreign national can provide the missing or additional documentation needed. Foreign nationals may also return to Deferred Inspection after they are admitted to the US to request that CBP correct an error an officer made when admitting the foreign national (such as the misspelling of a name or the incorrect visa category).
I think I understand. How exactly is secondary inspection different than Deferred Inspection again?
Secondary inspection is an additional level of review that CBP performs on the foreign national’s admissibility or status before admitting the foreign national to the US. With Deferred Inspection, the foreign national is temporarily allowed to enter the US, and must appear with additional documentation or proof of status at a later date at a Deferred Inspection Site. Or, again, a foreign national may return to a Deferred Inspection Site after being admitted and noticing there was an error made by CBP.
When foreign nationals are referred to secondary inspection, they are still in the process of being inspected and are not admitted to the US yet. They are still standing at the border figuratively and may not be able to come in even after the additional inspection process is completed in secondary inspection. On the other hand, generally, when foreign nationals are referred to Deferred Inspection, they are admitted or paroled into the US either temporarily or for a particular purpose. Therefore, it becomes more complicated to remove them from the US.
That said, there are several scenarios where foreign nationals are routinely referred to secondary inspection simply so the CBP computers can confirm their immigration status, not because there is a problem. For example, when foreign nationals enter the US on advance parole, they are referred to secondary inspection to confirm that their adjustment of status is still under review. Another common scenario is when foreign nationals who processed their Green Cards at a US Embassy/Consulate abroad are entering the US for the first time. These foreign nationals should expect to visit secondary inspection for final processing: to ensure a Green Card is ordered and to receive their I-551 stamp.
On the other hand, there are scenarios where foreign nationals are referred to secondary inspection for more serious issues, such as when foreign nationals are attempting to enter the US on the visa waiver program after they have previously overstayed their ninety-day period of admission to the US on the visa waiver program. Or when a foreign national has previously committed fraud, has a criminal history, or is on a no-fly list, they would be referred to secondary inspection. When a foreign national does not have the correct documentation to support their admission, they may also be referred to secondary inspection. In any scenario where foreign nationals are found inadmissible to the US, they may be put on a plane to their home country.
Should I be concerned if I am referred to Deferred Inspection?
Not necessarily. In some scenarios, foreign nationals may have simply forgotten to bring a piece of documentation with them that the inspecting CBP officer requires to come to a final decision about the foreign national’s immigration status. In this instance, the foreign national should expect to be referred to secondary inspection immediately where their immigration status may be confirmed by CBP’s computer system, or referred to a Deferred Inspection Site at a later date where they will need to appear with the required documentation.
What can I expect when I am referred to a Deferred Inspection Site?
On a case-by-case basis, the CBP officer at the port of entry may temporarily admit foreign nationals to the US and schedule them to report to a designated Deferred Inspection Site at a future date in order to present additional necessary documentation and/or information. When this occurs, the foreign national is given a Form I-546, Order to Appear-Deferred Inspection, explaining what information and/or documentation is required to resolve the discrepancy. Foreign nationals given a Form I-546 must appear at the Deferred Inspection Site or they may risk being put into removal proceedings.
Deferred inspection is conducted by CBP officers at one of over seventy designated Deferred Inspection Sites in the US and the outlying territories. Typically, a Deferred Inspection Site will consist of a waiting area with chairs or benches, several computers, and a few private interview rooms. After arriving at the Deferred Inspection Site, the foreign national will be asked to wait until an officer becomes available; the wait can be up to several hours depending on how busy the particular site is. Once an officer becomes available, the foreign national will be briefly interviewed to confirm the documentation and to verify the immigration status.
For foreign nationals who frequent our home of New York City, there is a Deferred Inspection Site at JFK International Airport (contact information, hours, and terminal location). Here is a full list of Deferred Inspection Sites.
Is there any way to use a Deferred Inspection Site to my advantage?
Absolutely! If, after being admitted, a foreign national discovers an error recorded on the arrival document issued at the time of entry to the US, the Deferred Inspection Site staff is available to review and issue the necessary documents to remedy these errors, including: improper non-immigrant classification, inaccurate biographical information, or incorrect period of admission.
Every time foreign nationals enter the US, it is advisable to print their I-94 admission document as soon as possible after entering the US and to check it for accuracy. This can be done at CBP.gov/I94 (more information about the electronic I-94 can be found in my prior post. Also see Protima's update). It is crucial to do this as soon as possible because if there is an error, in many cases CBP will only correct it for up to thirty days after the foreign national’s date of admission.
The CBP website states that any designated Deferred Inspection Site or CBP office located within an international airport should be able to assist a foreign national with the correction of errors, regardless of where the actual document was originally issued. That said, it is advisable for foreign nationals to make an appointment when possible and/or call ahead. In some cases, the error may be able to be corrected by phone; mail-in procedures are generally not available.
It is always advisable for foreign nationals to contact their immigration attorney if they are given a Form I-546, Order to Appear-Deferred Inspection, or if they find an error in their I-94 admission information prior to contacting CBP. Immigration attorneys may be able to help resolve a problem, prepare foreign nationals for the appointment at a Deferred Inspection Site, or reach out to a contact at CBP for help with the foreign national’s issue.
While ideally foreign nationals entering the US come with all the appropriate documentation and are admitted by CBP without error, it is reassuring to know that Deferred Inspection Sites and staff are available to remedy CBP errors and assist foreign nationals with clarifying their status via the appointment system when needed.