Before planning a trip, all foreign travelers who wish to visit the United States should inform themselves what to expect at the U.S. border and whether or not it is necessary to obtain a travel document for the country in order to avoid illegal entry into the United States and its consequences.
The majority of foreign citizens are required to obtain a U.S. tourist visa to enter the countries for short stays. U.S. visa waiver nationalities, such as Schengen member states and citizens of Japan and Australia, are required to pre-register for an ESTA travel authorization. Citizens of China are required to obtain a B1/B2 tourist visa as well as to submit an EVUS form to receive travel authorization.
Those who attempt to enter the U.S. without the correct valid travel documents are likely to face consequences, including penalties and even jail time. Attempting to enter the U.S. at a place other than that designated by immigration officers, or attempting to secure a marriage to stay in the United States can also incur severe fines.
Learn more about the federal illegal immigration laws and regulations below.
According to U.S. immigration law, crossing the border illegally is a federal misdemeanor, categorized as "improper entry", and is punishable by law. “Improper entry” does not only apply to those who attempt to cross unguarded areas of the U.S. border. It can also include:
Besides “improper entry” it is also a crime for foreign citizens to attempt to stay in the United States past the validity granted by the government. Any individual who knowingly establishes a commercial enterprise, or who knowingly enters into a marriage for the purpose of avoiding immigration laws, is also liable to face penalties.
The punishment for illegally entering the U.S. (improper entry) as a first-time immigration offender is either a fine from between $50 up to $250 or a prison sentence of up to 6 months. Repeat offenders are likely to be fined twice as much as the first attempt and may face a new prision sentence of up to 2 years.
There are also separate penalties for those who attempt to illegally re-enter the US after having being deported for certain types of crime:
Those who commit marriage fraud or immigration-related entrepreneurship fraud in an attempt to stay in the United States illegally are likely to face either a fine of up to $250,000 or up to 5 years of jail time.
In the United States, there is zero-tolerance for illegal entry whether the traveler committed the offense by accident or on purpose. Therefore, it is important for all foreign citizens to ensure they have the correct travel documentation to enter the United States, that the documents are valid upon entry, and that they arrive at a designated U.S. border checkpoint.
In addition to obtaining a valid B1/B2 tourist visa, travelers from EVUS eligible countries are required to pre-register an EVUS application before they can travel to the United States. The Electonic Visa Update System determines the eligibility of visa holders to enter the country and is valid for 2 years from the date of approval.
An EVUS is not the same as an approved visa for the United States: citizens from selected countries are required to obtain both travel documents in order to travel to the U.S. and avoid an illegal entry misdemeanor.