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To my understanding, thanks to the US's uncomfortably lax privacy laws, immigration officers are allowed to demand you to let them search your phone. If you have fingerprint unlock they can just straight up force you, but if it's a passcode you can refuse. Naturally though if you refuse you're probably not gonna get admitted. Is it at all possible to go back without having a permanent black mark on your record? Eg. paying for your own flight tickets back and going home without a refusal technically there? Or will you have to accept the searching of your phone if you want any chance of coming back to the US (or even any of the other Five Eyes)?

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    Yes you can withdraw your application. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Withdrawal_of_application_for_admission . However the Form I-275 becomes part of the alien's immigration record, potentially affecting future attempts to be admitted to the United States or apply for visas. – user 56513 Mar 26 at 15:09
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    While it's theoretically possible that your phone gets searched the likelihood is vanishingly small unless there is a reason to search you – Hilmar Mar 26 at 16:00
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    It's possible that your electronic device would be searched by customs inspectors, whom you would not encounter until after having been admitted by an immigration officer. In such circumstances, you would not be allowed to withdraw your application to enter, but you would also not be denied admission based on the result of the search, having already been admitted. In practice, though, it seems that the cases that have come into controversy involve people whose devices have been searched during secondary immigration inspection. – phoog Mar 26 at 16:02
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    @user56513 the alien cannot withdraw the application unilaterally, however; CBP consent is required (8 USC 1225(a)(4)). Certainly, if the agents have reasonable suspicion of a crime, they are unlikely to accept the withdrawal. Even absent such suspicion, if things get contentious (which they probably already have if the device is being inspected), the withdrawal may be refused. – phoog Mar 26 at 16:09
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    Looking at it from the opposite point of view, wouldn't it be kind of remiss of the immigration agency to not keep a record of their interactions with a visitor, especially when it's something unusual or potentially suspicious? And likewise, wouldn't it be remiss not to consider all past records when making a future decision? – Nate Eldredge Mar 26 at 18:58
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As far as I understand the question, your question is not actually about withdrawing your application, but about not having your phone searched.

It seems to me that you imagine a situation where the CBP officer asks to look at your phone and you say something along the lines of "oh wait, in that case I don't want to get in any more" - and just walk away.

Without trying to figure out the details: This won't work. If they want to search your phone they probably suspect you of something and will not simply let you walk off. Also the behavior itself would be suspicious, and they'd probably enter you into the system regardless of any official ban.

Fortunately, if your goal is to not have your phone searched, there is a very simple solution to that:

Do not bring your phone, or wipe it clean. You can always restore it from a cloud backup, if needed. Alternatively you can bring it and remove all information that you do not want anyone to find.

That said, phone searches are very rare for the average tourist.

| improve this answer | |
  • Had the phone search happen to me after going to visit my then-fiancee in the USA. Was held for 1.5hr! – user110704 Apr 8 at 2:15
  • This will depend. For example, if you're going through pre-clearance in Dublin - Customs & Border Patrol will have no authority to not allow you to walk away - so it's entirely possible for someone to do just that. – Paddez Apr 8 at 10:10

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