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I have a trip to the USA planned for 2018. I am a citizen of Montenegro - we are on good standing with the Americans, but we do need to apply for a visa in order to visit.

The possible issue is - I visited Iran earlier this year as a tourist. I am a bit worried I may be declined for this reason, but I will take my chances and schedule the interview at the embassy.

What I am more worried about is the following scenario:

  1. The consul approves my visa request, I am issued a visa

  2. I book my flights and travel to NY

  3. Some TSA/immigration officer decides not to let me into the country after all

  4. I waste a lot of time and money and have to take the first flight back

Is this possible? Can someone at the airport override the embassy's decision and deny me entry?

There is no legal reason for me not to visit, it's only the Iranian visa in my passport that has me concerned I may be turned back for "security reasons".

  • 5
    Even if you were from, for example EU and not from Montenegro you would have to apply to a US visa after a trip to Iran. That is, they perform extra checks on anyone who has been there. – Quora Feans Dec 18 '17 at 18:36
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    How hard/expensive would it be to renew your passport early? That might make the stamp go away... – Erno de Weerd Dec 18 '17 at 20:21
  • Well, not hard or expensive, but very slow. I'd rather not if I don't have to. – jovan Dec 18 '17 at 20:25
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    @ErnodeWeerd: I can only advise the OP against any smart-alec move to try to hide the fact that he has visited Iran. – Quora Feans Dec 18 '17 at 23:47
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    @QuoraFeans: Renewing your passport early, applying for a proper visa, and not lying about the Iran visit seems entirely reasonable. It reduces the chance of immigration officials making "mistakes". – MSalters Dec 19 '17 at 9:53
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Yes. Any country may deny anyone entry at the border, but if you send your passport to the embassy to get a visa then they already know your travel history. If you are given a visa then the immigration officer at the USA border shouldn't use that history as a reason to stop you. They might still have some other ordinary reason like they think you won't be able to pay your costs during your visit, or might work illegally.

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    I'll be going to the embassy in person for the visa interview, so I will be sure to address it. Also, there's a big, colourful, "Islamic state of Iran" visa page in my passport :) – jovan Dec 18 '17 at 16:09
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    Well, any non-citizen. – Azor Ahai Dec 18 '17 at 17:57
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    Yes, but I didn't want to digress! – user16259 Dec 18 '17 at 18:39
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    Basically, a visa gives you the right to board your flight and go up to an immigration officer and request entry into the U.S. The immigration officer may or may not let you in. – gparyani Dec 18 '17 at 23:41
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    It's worth remembering that when the current president first attempted to introduce a ban on certain people entering America, the result was that many people with valid visas were turned away at the border, for a reason that they couldn't possibly have anticipated. So the actual reason for you to be turned away could be something entirely unexpected. – Dawood ibn Kareem Dec 19 '17 at 3:30
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It is clearly mentioned in a few answers here that a pre-issued visa is not an entry permission but a permission to travel to a port of entry and request that permission. So the person at immigration will not ‘override the embassy’s decision’ but rather ‘come to a different conclusion in their own decision’. For example, on the United States CBP website it says

Issuance of a visa does not guarantee entry to the United States. A visa simply indicates that a U.S. consular officer at an American embassy or consulate has reviewed the application and that officer has determined that the individual is eligible to enter the country for a specific purpose. The CBP Officer at the port-of-entry will conduct an inspection to determine if the individual is eligible for admission under U.S. immigration law. (source)

In most if not all countries, the decision of whether to let somebody enter the country or not is down to the immigration officer inspecting your documents at the immigration check (and maybe that officer’s supervisor). This means that you can still be refused if:

  • people from your country generally don’t need visas
  • there is a visa waiver agreement or similar for certain conditions requiring nationals of your country to submit certain information but not actually issuing a visa and you are eligible
  • nationals of your country typically obtain visas on arrival and there is nothing prohibiting you from getting one
  • you applied for and got granted a visa which is valid during your intended travel dates

One example for the last bullet point (unfortunately from the Schengen zone, not the US) is ‘Denied entry into Schengen zone: Can I still use my visa?’ Therein, OP was denied entry to Germany because they could not satisfy the immigration officers that they wanted to leave (in a nutshell: OP had a flight from Germany home but no flight from Portugal to Germany).

Now of course, if you submitted all your documents in a timely manner and the embassy does decide to grant you a visa, then probabilities have suddenly drastically changed. In the overwhelming majority of cases, those applying for entry with a valid visa are let in — because the difficult cases are usually identified and weeded out at the visa application stage by rejecting them.

In your case, you mention that a previous trip to Iran is the basis of your uncertainty. The US embassy will have ample time to investigate your backgrounds and the details of that trip based on the documents you provide. If they come to the conclusion that you are admissable despite the Iran trip, that is very strong grounds for the immigration officer to consider that part handled and not make it affect his position.


It still bears repeating though, that it is all and entirely up to the immigration officer on duty and their superiors whether you are let in or not.

  • Is the first paragraph actually correct? At least a citation for the definition of a visa in the US would be warranted here, I think. I'm a bit skeptical. – Mehrdad Dec 19 '17 at 20:50
  • @Mehrdad See edit. – Jan Dec 20 '17 at 9:54
  • @Mehrdad How could it work otherwise? A system where a visa guaranteed entry would be impractical. Suppose someone is issued a visa and then shows up at the border and says "hi, I'm here to work illegally." Surely they wouldn't be admitted. – Zach Lipton Dec 20 '17 at 10:23
  • Jan: Thanks! @ZachLipton: The "how" is also in the 2nd sentence in the answer. The immigration officer would override the decision. – Mehrdad Dec 20 '17 at 10:25
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    @Mehrdad "Override" is not the correct term. The consular officer does not make any decision regarding your admission into the country, only regarding your eligibility for it. – fkraiem Dec 21 '17 at 4:08
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It's always possible, but not likely.

I've been denied at a border for which I had a valid visa. It wasn't even anything personal, just that there were elections upcoming and they decided to close the border.

Fortunately, the country we had just left was reasonable, when we turned around they basically cancelled our leaving, thus allowing us back in despite not having valid visas. (We all had single entry visas which had already been used.)

  • Normally, US didn't have the right to send you back to the country which you couldn't enter legally. They should have sent you home. – Dmitry Grigoryev Dec 19 '17 at 11:30
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    @DmitryGrigoryev : I don't think the closed border was with US. The US doesn't close borders for elections. – Martin Bonner Dec 19 '17 at 15:36
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    @DmitryGrigoryev This wasn't the US. None of us needed a visa to enter the US. Furthermore, the reason the country we left let us back in was this was a land border. We couldn't just hop a plane with no airport about! I was simply making the point that you can never be sure you'll be allowed in somewhere. – Loren Pechtel Dec 19 '17 at 22:38
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The immigration officer would need a reason that would make you inadmissible to deny you entry. A visit to Iran in itself is not a valid reason to deny entry. My friends who have visited Iraq many times have never had a problem going to the USA. Occasionally, they're questioned about their visits there, but "just visiting x y Z" is a good enough answer.

The immigration officers and their superiors will not deny you entry just because you visited Iran. They are not allowed to do that. If they do, you may request for redress. (https://help.cbp.gov/app/answers/detail/a_id/757/~/friend%2C-relative%2C-etc.-denied-entry-to-the-u.s.) The reason for your denial would be logged in the CBP system and would be considered during the redress process. It would be unlawful for an officer to deny entry for a reason that does not make the traveler inadmissible. A visit to Iran or Iraq does not make a traveler inadmissible.

You are concerned they may deny you entry on "security grounds." Visits to Iran do not make you a security threat.

While the final decision to let you in rests with the officers, it does not mean they are above the law. They have rules that they must follow and if violate any law they will be answerable.

  • 5
    Iran, Iraq, what's the difference? – Robert Columbia Dec 18 '17 at 20:52
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    @RobertColumbia About 25%. – a CVn Dec 18 '17 at 21:19
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    It is true that a visit by itself should not be enough to deny entry. At the same time, if the CBP officer does not want you to go into the US they will talk to you long enough until they can construct a reason. Then you may not be demonstrating sufficient ties to your home country or not have the funding required (even though both sound ludicrous). And the officers will likely have been in the business for long enough to know how to construct effectively. Still, giving you an upvote, especially for the redress part. – Jan Dec 19 '17 at 9:41
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Before starting to worry about being refused entry at the US border you should examine the relevant statistics from CBP:

On a typical day, CBP:

  • Processed 1,069,266 passengers and pedestrians

  • Refused 350 inadmissible persons at U.S. ports of entry

So your chances of being refused despite having a valid visa are 0.032%. Personally I find these odds good enough to completely avoid worrying about a possible denial of entry.

  • This is a blatant misuse of statistics. – phoog Nov 23 '18 at 14:21

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