Questions asked by US immigration at airport

Three days ago, I landed at LAX– Los Angeles International Airport. It’s nice to be back. Sometimes I call it home. Sometimes Vietnam is still home. I suppose my home changes depending on the context. But, for now, it’s always “Earth”.

I noticed a few interesting new things since the last time I was here. On one wall, there’s text that reads “welcome to the united states” above a photo of Barack Obama. While in line at immigration, we get to watch a video on a large screen TV, in which individuals and groups of people mouth “welcome”, one after another. There are speakers on the TVs, but they weren’t turned on, so it was a silent video.

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At the front of the line, there’s a lady announcing the number of the desk that the next person should go to. When she stated my number– 27, I think– I hesitated, not knowing which direction I should go: is that desk to my right, or to my left? I remembered the situation I was in when leaving China: they have a man directing people to different security screening booths, and he stated the number in Chinese. When I asked to confirm the number, he restated it in English. But this time, of course, the officer at LAX only states the number in English.

I know some travelers who are annoyed or confused that people in a foreign country speak a foreign language. It wouldn’t make sense any other way. If things were the same, and people spoke English, then why bother traveling? I thrive on “annoyances”.

When I reached the immigration officer and handed him my documents, I was glad to see that he was a genial-looking gentleman. He fit the stereotype of a good police officer, middle-age, mature, gray hair, a sense of humor.

As a US Citizen, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Would I be asked anything? How long would it take?

He began a series of questions (O = Officer, M = Me):

O: China, Vietnam, Taiwan, Germany, France, UK, Netherlands. So you visited all of those countries? What did you do there?

M: Just traveling, mostly.

O: What did you go there for?

M: I also attended a conference.

O: What do you do for work?

M: I’m making mobile apps.

O: Do you work for yourself?

M: I work for my own company.

O: Okay, so you can afford to go to  all those places.

M: Yup.

O: Bringing anything back with you?

M: I bought this jacket. [I tug on the jacket as a gesture to show him it’s the one I’m wearing.]

O: [Laughs.] Alright. Welcome home.

M: Thanks.

The entire exchange took only a minute, but it covered a decent amount of ground.

This seemed appropriate to me. It was a reasonable and understandable amount of questioning.

Does my recent experience jibe with yours? When was the last time you landed at an American airport after an international trip?

2 Responses to “Questions asked by US immigration at airport”

  1. Peter Lutz says:

    Thanks for posting your experience. I’m glad you got through the questioning with a minimum of hassle, but I’d like to ask why you answered any questions at all? It seems the questions around “what did you do there?” were attempting to confirm the business or pleasure question on your customs declaration. As you answered “just traveling” and “attending a conference” the officer could have construed a lie from your response. I’m glad that he did not, but I don’t know why, that’s the scary part. If the officer perceived you were lying then you could have been subject to some pretty severe criminal charges (e.g. 18 USC section 1001). As a US Citizen you couldn’t have been denied entry, but your entry may have been to jail. As far as I know (IANAL) there is no penalty for refusing to answer questions. You will surely get more hassle from the CBP officers for doing so, but you will not risk misstating something which could be used against you.

  2. Well, we’ll see what they will ask me at JKF :) for a non-US citizen who also travels a lot like you. Pretty sure that they definitely will not say “Welcome home” :P

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