Why did the U.S. deny me entrance at the border?

Why did the U.S. deny me entrance at the border?

As a cross-border immigration firm with offices in Windsor and metro Detroit, we are often contacted by individuals who were either denied entrance or given the opportunity to withdraw their application to the United States. This experience is often confusing and scary for people, particularly those who regularly cross the border to visit family and friends. We are frequently asked:

Why did the U.S. deny me entrance as a visitor?

Visitor Status in the U.S.: B-1 and B-2 Visas

Every person seeking to enter the United States is presumed to be an immigrant unless they can demonstrate their temporary intention. When a border officer asks you questions at customs, such as the purpose of your travel to the United States, they are trying to determine whether your intent in entering the United States is temporary (nonimmigrant) or permanent (immigration).

Visitor visas are nonimmigrant visas for persons who want to enter the U.S. temporarily for business (B-1), pleasure (B-2), or a combination of both. Canadians may enter the United States without obtaining a visitor visa, but if entering as a visitor they are lawfully admitted under visitor status.

In determining eligibility to enter the U.S. as a visitor, officers will assess:

  • Whether applicants have a residence and meaningful ties in a foreign country (for example, Canada) that they do not wish to abandon;
  • Whether applicants intend to enter the U.S. for a specified, limited duration; and
  • Whether they seek admission for the purpose of engaging in legitimate activities related to business or pleasure.

If you cannot satisfy the officer as to all of the below, they will refuse your application to enter the United States. Sometimes, they will allow you to “withdraw” your application to enter the United States and return to Canada to avoid the denial forming part of your record.

Meaningful Ties to Home Country

In order to be satisfied that you are only entering the U.S. with a temporary visitor intent, officers need to see that you have meaningful ties to your home country. Effectively, this means that officers need to see that you have good reasons to return to your home country following the visit. In order to determine this, they will often ask questions to assess the following:

  • Do you have permanent employment in your home country?
  • Are you currently enrolled in school in your home country?
  • Do you have meaningful business or financial connections in your home country? 
  • Do you have relatives or close family members in your home country?
  • Do you have social or cultural ties indicating a strong connection to the home country and an intention to return?

Concerns about a lack of meaningful ties is one of the primary reasons why Canadians are not admitted to the United States as visitors. When this happens, officers will often tell people to return with documentation such as:

  • Evidence of employment (e.g. recent pay stubs, employee ID, letter from employer, etc)
  • Proof of foreign residence (e.g. recent rent receipt, copy of mortgage, utility bills, etc)
  • Evidence of financial support (e.g. bank statements, income tax returns, etc)
  • Evidence of financial assistance (e.g. government disability payments, support from parents, etc)
  • Evidence of educational ties (e.g. letter from school officials on official letterhead, etc)
  • Evidence of ongoing bills (e.g. utility bills, phone bills, internet bills, etc)

Returning the following day with documents demonstrating meaningful ties to the home country is generally not a good idea. Although this is technically allowed, your odds of success are much higher if you remain in your home country for at least a few months before trying again to enter the U.S. as a visitor.

Visiting for Specified and Limited Durations

Individuals who wish to visit the United States are expected to have a reason for entering, and plans for leaving. Simply put, officers will want to know when you plan to return to your home country. If you do not have a clear idea of when you will be leaving the U.S., the officers will have reason to believe that you have immigrant intentions. For that reason, you should be prepared to provide at least the following:

  • Your confirmed date of departure (e.g. round-trip airline tickets, etc)
  • Evidence that you have sufficient funds for your intended trip (ex. cash, credit cards, etc)
  • Contact name(s) of family members, friends, business associates, or individuals you are traveling to see
  • Address/telephone number where you can be reached in the U.S.

These lists are non-exhaustive, and officers have the discretion to ask for more information or to deny entry if they still aren’t satisfied that your intentions are temporary.

Permitted Activities for Visitors

The Foreign Affairs Manual outlines permissible activities that visitors may engage in in the United States. When you apply to enter the U.S. as a visitor, including as a Canadian citizen at a port-of-entry, the officer will want to ensure that your activities fall within what’s permissible under B-1 or B-2 status.

For B-2 (i.e. “pleasure”) visitors, permissible activities including things such as tourism, family visits, participation in social events, and medical treatment. Amateur athletes and entertainers are also permitted to enter under B-2 status to participate in a competition or for a social or charitable event. By definition, amateur athletes and entertainers should not be members of professional associations for that activity and should not receive remuneration (other than expenses).

For B-1 (i.e. “business”) visitors, the list of permissible business activities is detailed and extensive. Those entering the U.S. for business purposes must not receive a salary from U.S. sources for services rendered in the United States, though a U.S. source may cover incidental expenses. Some non-exhaustive permissible business activities include:

  • Engaging in commercial transactions that do not involve gainful employment in the U.S.
  • Negotiating contracts
  • Consulting with business associates
  • Litigation
  • Participating in scientific, educational, professional, or business conventions, conferences, or seminars
  • Undertaking independent research
  • Those who are studying at a foreign medical school entering to engage in elective medical clerkships without pay at a U.S. medical school hospital
  • Installation, repair, or service to industrial or commercial equipment or machinery purchased from a company outside of the United States or to train U.S. workers to perform the service.

The above list is only a fraction of the permissible business activities permitted under B-1 status. For a full list, please refer to the Foreign Affairs Manual.


Border officers enjoy a great deal of discretion in assessing applications for admission to the U.S. If they have reason to believe that your intentions are not temporary or that you will engage in impermissible activity while visiting the U.S., your visitor application will not be successful. 

If you or your business are experiencing challenges at the border, contact Sisu Legal to discuss what options may be available to you.

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