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I remember reading a few weeks ago (I can't remember where/what the source was) that there's quite a different experience going through immigration depending on what airport you go to in the US. I believe the examples provided were something like, immigration at JFK is typically "stricter", "not as friendly", and perhaps "more grilling" when compared to an airport such as LAX. I've gone through JFK, ORD, and EWR airports multiple times, and haven't really noticed a difference as every time has been mostly smooth.

I'll be travelling to PIT airport, and I'm wondering if anyone can speak from experience based on whether the above is at least somewhat true, and if so, what immigration is usually like at PIT. I'll be travelling just before Christmas, on an ESTA. I have also regularly travelled back and forth from the US and UK throughout the year.

I don't expect the process of getting through immigration to really change (and thus the questions they'll likely ask could be similar no matter the airport).

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    How nice and welcoming the officers are depends mostly on their personal mood. In terms of decision making there's no (and cannot be) any policy differences between the ports of entry.
    – littleadv
    Commented Nov 16, 2022 at 0:59
  • I was once in MIA where one of the CBP officers was probably the grumpiest ever. But his queue moved twice as fast as the others! It was on the US citizen/PR side though, maybe on the other side he would have sent everybody to secondary.
    – jcaron
    Commented Nov 16, 2022 at 18:03
  • @littleadv: the context may play a part too. From my experience, immigration officers in Guam (mostly, tourists) were welcoming and friendly, while officers in JFK and at the border between Vancouver and Seattle (all kinds of people, including smugglers and people intending to overstay) were cold and stern. All were absolutely professional though. Immigration officers in Dakar (in the tiny, overcrowded airport) are extremely unpleasant and shoot at any people that put a step beyond the waiting line in the queue.
    – Taladris
    Commented Nov 17, 2022 at 2:08
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    Shoot? A bit extreme... Shout, I hope...
    – littleadv
    Commented Nov 17, 2022 at 6:08

1 Answer 1

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You'll never know what you are going to get. Unfortunately, CBP officers have an large amount of leeway and not a whole lot of oversight, so the experience can vary quite a lot even at the same airport.

Some CBP officers are difficult, but many are just doing their job. Chances are, you are going to be just fine and it will be business as usual.

This being said, I had one of my worst immigration experience in PIT coming back from Europe. At the time we were as harmless at it comes: young family with three small kids from a "good" country, US residents with a good job, H-1Bs and H-4s with plenty of time left on them. Yet the officer didn't want to let us in. No reason was given; he simply didn't want to. The only thing I could was to (very carefully) stand my ground and grovel profusely (please, please, please!!). That eventually did the trick, but it was humiliating and nerve-wrecking to say the least.

However, I don't think this type of behavior correlates with location, so you'll be fine.

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    I don't think an individual CBP officer can refuse entry, were you sent to the secondary inspection?
    – littleadv
    Commented Nov 16, 2022 at 3:33
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    I don't think this type of behavior correlates with location this is a key point. I have had my best interactions at PHX, but also the worst one. The average ones were at ORD, leaning on the "not that good" side. It was a mixture of day of the week, the hour, the provenance of the group of people, and -by far- the individual agent/officer.
    – WoJ
    Commented Nov 16, 2022 at 11:21
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    @littleadv: No secondary. There was also no grounds on which he could deny entry, as we had perfectly good Visas. The guy was just torturing us for his own enjoyment. Why he picked a family with 3 kids under 6 is beyond me. Fortunately they were all good troopers: despite an 8 hour flight and 6 hour time difference no one had a melt down. The problem here is that there is almost no accountability: I've seen officers in secondary doing blatantly illegal things but there is no recourse and no consequences..
    – Hilmar
    Commented Nov 16, 2022 at 12:31

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