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I arrived in Miami International Airport (Feb 2013) and was taken aside by immigration who stated I had overstayed in the US in 1995 by a few days. It was claimed that I had not left the US and they wanted to know where I had been in the US for 18 years!
They said they had no record of me leaving or if I did I had overstayed (which I know I had not). I have since found in an old passport a stamp from US immigration that shows I reentered the US in May of 1995 from Canada (again on holiday).
After he agreed to let me in for my vacation I was advised that I would have to go through the same four hour questioning process every time I visit the US again.

When I left the US two weeks later my partner and I were told by the airline staff that we had to be separated for our return journey. No reason given other than it was a request from US officials. Why was this? I have no convictions and am a frequent traveler to holiday destinations.

Was I tagged? Will this happen again? How can I get answers? The whole experience was so horrific and unpleasant and clearly unnecessary that I am reluctant to visit again. What can I do? Can I get pre-clearance? Any suggestions please.

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Are you aware that for many visas and visa waiver schemes, going to Canada then returning to the US doesn't count as having "left" and they count the whole thing as one trip for stay duration purposes? –  Gagravarr May 3 '13 at 10:51
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I would have expected that next time you should bring as much documentation to prove that you actually lived wherever you did live between 1995 and 2013. If you can convince them you weren't secretly hiding in the US most of the trouble should go away. –  DJClayworth May 3 '13 at 13:02
    
Welcome to the brave new world of the land of the free my friend. My own solution to a similar situation is that I never go anywwhere near the US any more, not even airspace. –  hippietrail Jan 13 at 7:28
    
@Gagravarr: Mexico also doesn't count. I heard they were going to extend it into Central America and the Caribbean but I'm not up-to-date with how that worked out. @ DJClayworth: I wouldn't expect anything sensible from US immigration but taking as much documentation to prove your store is definitely sensible advice. –  hippietrail Jan 13 at 7:30
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3 Answers

At this point your only option is to get an immigration lawyer and see if you can get this record removed. Otherwise you will have to go through this procedure every time you enter the United States.

Personally if you're traveling into the country once every 20 years I wouldn't bother but then again its just me.

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There are many factors/reasons for this. One of them could be your nationality and the visa category you arrived on in 95 and 2013. As per procedure you have to surrender your I94 upon exiting US. I will be surprised if you being a frequent traveler did not know about this.

At the moment surrendering of I-94 is the only way USCIS can track entry and exit of foreign nationals (although the I94 is being completely done away with very soon). If any annotations have been marked on your passport, you are officially tagged.

If while applying for your new visa, in your DS-160 if you haven't mentioned that you overstayed, but the USCIS records show that you overstayed, you will be subject to scrutiny every time you enter/exit. If you cannot bear this, you will have to go the legal way with USCIS. Also be aware that if any fraud is detected, you may face a life ban from US. Sadly (and I think mostly due to the abuse of the system) 'fraud' for USCIS can be any misrepresentation. To prove whether it was willful or not is a different hill to climb.

Most people in similar circumstances that I know of, just go through this scrutiny every time. And if you find a helpful officer politely and humbly ask him what the real problem is and how it can be fixed.
HTH

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In 1995 collection of I-94s was rather lax especially on US/Canada border given that you could travel between the countries with just your driver's license. –  Karlson May 3 '13 at 13:29
    
Good luck with the "find a helpful officer" part. In my experience potential officers are screened especially to prevent ones with nice human qualities including helpfulness from getting the job. And it's the same in Australia where I'm from. I dealt with US immigration in several different places between 1991 and 2000 and only ever experienced extremely unhelpful ones going extremely by-the-book. –  hippietrail Jan 13 at 7:36
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I know someone who had a similar problem. He is a pilot and travels to the US frequently as part of an airline crew as well as privately.

At some point something similar to you happened: He was told that he had overstayed a 90-day-US-Tourist Visa at some point about 20 years ago. There was no chance of escaping the procedure of being taken to glass cube, waiting for 20 Minutes and then the usual interview. He even started to tell the officer at the immigration right away "I know... Overstepped visa...", but the procedure remained including the mandatory 20 minute penalty waiting. He tried to explain that he never had anything near 90 days of subsequent vacation in his job.

He tried lots of things to get rid of the record. He called the US embassy in his home country (Germany), tried some agency that claimed to help in such cases in London, but without success.

Maybe all the immigration forms were pilled somewhere in the basement up until some point after the attacks of 9/11, when some trainees were taken aside to type in everything into a computer backed database. And some of the forms were lost (just a theory, no idea how it actually happened).

Eventually someone told him that he should apply for a 5-year tourist visa, because "that's another database". The next time when his air crew visa expired he asked his airline whether he could get a tourist visa along with his air crew visa. After all it's just one more stamp. And magically from this point on the old overstepped visa was somehow forgotten.

What should we learn from this? 1) Being a global power does not mean that your procedures automatically work as designated and if something goes terribly wrong it is not necessarily because of some conspiracy but because of ah well... let's not get into this. 2) Maybe you have the same problem and can evade the problem the same way.

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