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I spent 5 months in the USA, and everything went without a problem. Now I'm spending my second month back in my country (the Czech Republic). In a week or two I want to go back to the USA for another 5 months, visiting my girlfriend who is studying there and is a US citizen.

Is it a good idea to mention to the immigration officer that I'm visiting my girlfriend, and that's basically my travel plan? I have a regular traveler visa.

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It's never a good idea to mention anything that's not explicitly asked. – fkraiem Jan 26 at 10:03
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@JakubKohout "How else I'm supposed to spend time with my girlfriend?" - unfortunatly, immigration services don't really care about that. They've no duty or requirement to fascillitate international relationships. Also, most people don't spend most of a year simply following their girlfriend/boyfriend around. There is going to be suspicion that you are working or similar. – CMaster Jan 26 at 10:38
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@JakubKohout How else I'm supposed to spend time with my girlfriend? By getting married and applying for an applicable spousal visa. The USA does not support girlfriends or boyfriends, but it does support wives and husbands. – gerrit Jan 26 at 11:03
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Just wondering, what are you planning on doing in those 5 months during the day while your girlfriend is busy studying? That's the nub of the problem. If you've got a clear explanation, that's probably fine, else most people would assume, "Well, he's not going to sit in the house all day, probably he's going to get a job". Also, friendly tip, if your username is your real name, it wouldn't hurt to change it ;-) probably not necessary, but there's no point making life riskier if you do follow the "half-truth" option – user568458 Jan 26 at 12:39
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Jakub, what visa (if any) did you use to stay in the US for five months? The standard Visa Waiver Program would only allow you to stay 90 days at a time, so you may already have overstayed. – jpatokal Jan 26 at 12:45

I was in a similar situation a few years ago. I actually sent an email to US Customs & Border Protection. Their response back then was that they would expect me to be outside of the US for about an equal amount of time to what I had just spent inside before returning.
In my case, I had been in the USA with a visa waiver (as a EU citizen) for 82 days (almost the full 90 days). I stayed home for 90 days and returned.

I was pulled from the line at the airport immigration before making it to the front. I was taken to a separate room and asked a lot of questions along the lines why I was returning again on a tourist visa, whom I was going to stay with, how I was going to pay for all this, etc.
I was allowed to enter the country because I could answer all those questions to their satisfaction. But in this case, immigration was very serious about the matter.


screenshot of the email-exchange:

CPB email

the important paragraph reads:

The Visa Waiver Program doesn't work that way. If he decides to use the Visa Waiver Program (ESTA); maximum stay is 90 days and he needs to allow adequate time between visits. The rule of thumb is if he is in the US for 90 days; should be out of the U.S. for 91 days before returning.

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thank you so much for sharing with us your experience, I very appreciate it. – Jakub Kohout Jan 26 at 17:10
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They "pulled [you] from the line". That means they were waiting for you i.e. you were on a list of people they thought might violate the law. Did you identify yourself in the email? Maybe just the dates of previous travel triggered extra questions. Dunno. – D_Bester Jan 27 at 15:11
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I have heard this "equal time" thing before many a times but I thought it urban legend because the official site explicitly states there is no set time between visits. Care to share a screenshot of this email? I think it'd be super popular. – chx Jan 27 at 18:06
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Note that the rules of thumb here is exactly that -- a rule of thumb. You're not allowed to use VWP to live in the US and, if you start making long visits on VWP, with short gaps between them, they'll class that as trying to live in the US. How long the stays can be an how short the gaps can be is up to the CBP officer's interpretation of your situation. If you try to stay ~90 days, leave briefly, then come back for another ~90 days, they'll be hugely suspicious; if you leave for not much more than 90 days and then try to come back for about 90 days, they'll still be pretty suspicious. – David Richerby Jan 28 at 1:48
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@D_Bester: The U.S. always knows who you are before you arrive. So do many other countries. You and the airline are required to provide documentation in advance (the APIS program, brought in in 2006). So all they'd need to do is see that Joe Bloggs was inbound and that he'd been in country for 90 days within the past (say) 180 and say "Hmmm, we'd better check this guy out." – T.J. Crowder Jan 28 at 10:22

All things being equal, no, it's not good idea: people entering to visit girlfriends/fiances/etc for long periods of time are at high risk of overstaying and/or working illegally, and you'll get additional scrutiny.

However, it's much worse to lie about why you're visiting, since immigration officers are very good at spotting any inconsistencies in your story and you're basically guaranteed to be denied entry if you're caught. You also will be asked how long you're staying, and when you say "five months", they will ask a) why so long, b) how you're going to support yourself, and c) how do they know you will go back home.

So my advice would be to find another reason to go to the US and explain this when asked -- but don't lie, it has to be real. For example, maybe you can enroll in some local training course that will assist you in your career when you get back, and if asked where you're staying, you can state that you're renting a cheap room from/sharing a flat with a "friend" you met in the Czech Republic. (No need to mention that you're romantically involved, unless explicitly asked!) Remember that they will likely know that you've already stayed for five months before, so be sure your explanation covers that and that your girlfriend knows what to say in case they call her.

Note: This all assumes you did not overstay during your previous visit. If you entered the US using the Visa Waiver Program, you only get 90 days, so you may already be in hot water if you actually stayed five months. (You're not stopped on the way out, because the US doesn't have exit immigration control, but this is recorded.)

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Presumably, being able to point to something specific he's returning home to would also work (e.g. "and then I've got a course / job / major event in 5 months in the Czech Republic which I'll be returning home for) – user568458 Jan 26 at 12:43
    
@user568458 That would be helpful, but the immigration office will want to know what he's doing in the US for those five months. – jpatokal Jan 26 at 12:46
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I think 5 months/ 2months /5 months pattern more raises flags than merely visiting a gf/bf in this case mind. – CMaster Jan 26 at 14:45
    
@Superbest no, the immigration officer cannot extend the VWP 90-day window. They have discretion on a normal B visa entry, but not for the VWP. – phoog Jan 28 at 4:08

It is neither a good or bad idea, it's your only option because it is the truth.

Getting caught on a lie would surely make things worse, so unless you are a conman or a politician, I would not advise testing USCIS officers ability to catch liars -since that's what they do for a living-.

Personally, I spent many months (never more than 3 at a time, since that's the limit for the Visa Waiver program) in the US visiting my girlfriend, always said that was the reason for my trip, and never encountered any problem.

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Don't lie, but don't give details. "I'm visiting friends" is not a lie, but avoids unnecessary detail. – Mike Scott Jan 26 at 15:59
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@MikeScott Then you get asked what are your friends names and what kind of great relationship you have with them that you're willing to spend so much money visiting them that often. You're probably nervous enough at this point to lie and make up names and stories, and even if you do the less stupid thing and admit that "your friends" is "your girlfriend", the officer may wonder why you didn't admit that at the beginning and if you have anything else to hide. In my experience, being 100% honest from the very beginning will help you avoid problems. – Antrim Jan 26 at 16:21
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I have to agree, being vague is a rather obvious tactic that you might be trying to hide something - or even making the whole thing up, which results in further questioning. The plan you want to go with is to bore them with every tiny detail until they get tired of listening to you and wave you through. – DoubleDouble Jan 27 at 17:57
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@MikeScott Calling your romantic interest a "friend" is most certainly considered deception by immigration officials. – Michael Hampton Jan 27 at 17:58
    
@DoubleDouble Agreed with you and Mike. – Antrim Jan 28 at 10:34

I would say that it depends with a bias towards to the other answers saying "don't mention anything they don't specifically ask".

My wife is from Ireland and came back and forth to the US 3 months on, 3 months off (both the limits of each interval). She did this a few times (maybe 4 or 5) without any problems. However one of those last times, she was taken into a little room and basically harassed about it. They told her that she needed to get her act together, and "you know you can't just get married over there" kind of thing. They let her through, but were very suspect of it and knew that something might have been going on.

Long story short, we filed for K1 visa and 13 months later (with no trips by either of us) we got married. It was hard, and the phone bills were huge, but we're still together nearly 11 years later.

So, it can work out but you are raising their suspicions that you are trying to "sneak" your way to the US.

BTW, if you do decide to get married, DO NOT just get married. Do the visa thing. Do your paperwork, pay your fees and wait in "line". This will save you a lot of headache and a potential multi-DECADE ban from the US and crazy INS vists and just basically government shenanigans. When my wife was in the immigration office in Dublin, she met a couple that just got married willy-nilly thinking it would work. The woman was banned for 10 years. Another newspaper story of nearly the same situation reported a ban of 30 years. US gov't doesn't appreciate you doing things out of order.

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How is it an issue if you get married inside the US when visiting your girlfriend? There is no law against it afaik. If you fill out paperwork afterwards it should be fine(?) – Idos Jan 27 at 5:09
    
@Idos it was formerly a problem to enter the US other than on a K-1 visa and then apply to stay after marrying. Apparently policy has changed recently to allow people to enter using the VWP and then stay. It was never a problem to enter without a K-1 and then leave after marrying (whereafter you'd need a K-3 to immigrate ). – phoog Jan 27 at 17:18
    
@phoog I'm unsure of what exactly you are referring to... I mean that let's assume someone has a B1/B2 visa and goes into the US and gets married while there (and then files all appropriate documents). It shouldn't be a problem for him right? – Idos Jan 27 at 17:30
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See, told you, US loves you Israelis. Maybe 13 months was just for Ireland, because while loved by all, the Irish can be a bunch of wildcards. If it's Mexico, Syria or Egypt, or something like that, yea, forget it. Probably take 30 months or the rest of your life ;) – fractalspawn Jan 27 at 18:22
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@Idos easily enough: you already left the country after marrying. Then you can show all the usual stuff: evidence of a home, job, etc. Granted, it may be more difficult to overcome the presumption of immigrant intent, but it shouldn't be impossible. – phoog Jan 27 at 19:18

The ONLY important question here is not being asked yet: What does your visa say?

If you have a typical tourist visa, I think it should be 3 months in any 6 month period. If that's the case and you stayed 5 months, that's a problem and it doesn't matter whether you say something about your gf or not. If your visa allows you to spend 5 months, 3 months out and 5 months in the US, then it's not relevant what you say (although I agree it's not a good idea to offer up more information than asked).

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The OP is likely a Czech citizen, in which case they can use the Visa Waiver Program to travel to the USA without a visa for up to 90 days. Agreed though that, if they did indeed exceed 5 months continuously, they'll be in trouble. – jpatokal Jan 26 at 12:44
    
@jakub-kohout Read the comment above. If you exceeded 3 months the first time, you might be in trouble. – Amit Kohli Jan 26 at 13:54
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The VWP allows 90 days per visit. A B-2 visa allows up to six months per visit, which can be extended by application up to one year. In both cases, there is no strict rule about how many days must be spent outside the US between visits. General statements about a "typical tourist visa" are not particularly helpful in a conversion about a specific country's visa policy. – phoog Jan 26 at 14:28
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" If your visa allows you to spend 5 months, 3 months out and 5 months in the US, then it's not relevant what you say." I disagree. A US visa doesn't guarantee you the right to enter the country. It gives you the right to come to the border and ask to be let in. No matter what the visa says, if the immigration officer believes that you are planning to work, immigrate, etc, you can be refused entry. – Nate Eldredge Jan 26 at 14:54
    
@NateEldredge a valuable distinction. Thanks for clarifying – Amit Kohli Jan 26 at 15:23

The problem is your behaviour is going to look suspiscious. What are you going to do during the day? Tourist type activities and dossing around are going to wear thin after a while, and given it doesn't seem you are especially rich, you may get tempted to work illegally. Spending more time in than out without a very good reason looks like migration, not visits. Unlike some places, the USA doesn't have a hard and fast rule on time in versus time out but that doesn't mean you won't get denied if they think you are trying to immigrate.

You may very well intend to take a break from study/work for a while and move back to your home country with your girlfriend when she finishes her studies, your family may well be willing to pay for this, but the immigration officer has no way of confirming you or your families' real intentions.

So what are your options?

  1. Try and keep doing what you are doing, it's not illegal per se (assuming you get the visa, 5 months is too long for a single trip under VWP) but the more times you do it (you don't say how long your girlfriend has left on her course or what her plans are after that) the more risk you run that you will be denied a visa or denied entry. Entering the US for you is a privilege, not a right, which means you have little recourse if they say no.
  2. Make short visits making sure you spend more time at home (or at least outside the USA and its immediate neighbours) than in the USA. Maybe have your girlfriend come and visit you instead sometimes or meet up in some third country.
  3. Get some other legitimate reason for long trips to the USA. The most obvious would be to start a course of study at a US college/university.

Marriage may also be a possibility, but in the short term is likely to make things worse, not better, and should of course only be done if you really believe you will stay with the person for the rest of your life. Using a sham marriage to immigrate is illegal and carries stiff penalties.

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Yes you should say it. I went through this a number of times. Just make sure you say exactly how long you are visiting and bring some evidence (copy of a lease, college id, work contract) that you have a reason to return after your stay.

5 months is longer than the Visa Waver Program allows (90 days). If you already overstayed this once, then you won't be allowed to enter on the Visa Waver Program again for a certain period of time. You need to get a visa.

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I believe that "a certain period of time" is, in this case, forever. "Previous Compliance and No Prior Visa Ineligibilities. If you have had a U.S. visa before or previously traveled to the United States under the VWP or another status, you must have complied with the conditions of previous admissions to the United States, and you must not have previously been found ineligible for a U.S. visa." (travel.state.gov/content/visas/en/visit/…) – phoog Jan 28 at 21:37
    
I traveled on tourist B-1 visa which allows to stay 180 days and I stayed something around 150 days. – Jakub Kohout Jan 28 at 23:25

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