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I am a British green card holder. My mother lives in the UK and visits us as a tourist periodically so she can see the grandkids. It has recently started becoming a more economical proposition to fly into Toronto airport than the usual connections she takes through airports like JFK and Philadelphia. We are currently looking to do this for her visit over the winter holiday season.

I would be more than happy to make that trip to Toronto airport to go pick her up, however I am nervous at the prospect of returning to the US via the Rainbow Bridge in case the border guards were to view us with some suspicion. A non-citizen permanent resident bringing in their non-citizen non-immigrant family member via a land border will likely trigger some red flags to them. She will obviously have all necessary documentation proving her eligibility to visit on an ESTA, airline booking confirmations of return flights. She is additionally part of the Global Entry program. I would hope it would be enough to satisfy any potential suspicion at the border.

Would this course of action be okay to take?

Any advice very much appreciated.

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2 Answers 2

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She (and you) will be fine. She's unlikely to attract any more attention than if flying in. It's the same CBP rules whether at the airport or a land port of entry.

ESTA approval is required, which you've said will be satisfied, and she already has Global Entry, so they're already not concerned about her entering the country. Many foreigners cross land borders all the time in similar situations to yours.

They may require a stop for her to get a I-94 (since they can't do photo and fingerprints in the car), but she'd do that in the airport anyway.

No red flags are being raised here - no need to overthink the situation.

Edit to add: As commented by @Aubreal there is the caveat that it's still up to the CBP officer, they can still pull you aside for additional questioning even if everything is in order. This can happen whether flying, driving, walking etc.

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  • And OP's mother has GE, so no stopping (they can just use the READY lanes, which OP is eligible for through their Green Card) Nov 17, 2023 at 4:15
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    While I agree with your answer, there is the caveat that it's always up to the border agent. Even with everything in order and all the boxes ticked I have had experiences where colleagues (from Canada) get pulled aside seemingly randomly for "additional questioning" sessions that can be quite lengthy and intrusive. Rare but happens, and they are let in eventually. 99.9% chance they will be fine, with a slight possibility of added questioning.
    – Aubreal
    Nov 17, 2023 at 15:00
  • @Aubreal Yes that is correct, however the same goes for CBP agents when you fly in also, hence the first line of my answer. I will attempt to make that clearer though
    – Midavalo
    Nov 17, 2023 at 16:25
  • @NicolasFormichella There aren't READY lanes on that land border. There are some Nexus lanes depending on the border crossing and time of entry, and the Nexus-only Whirlpool Bridge available (again depending on time) but only if everyone in the car is part of the NEXUS program, that must be added to Global Entry with a separate fee and interview.
    – WBT
    Nov 18, 2023 at 19:04
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    Additionally, this answer does not say anything about the admission to Canada which will be required prior to trying to enter the US.
    – WBT
    Nov 18, 2023 at 19:11
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Of course one often hears horror stories about unreasonable officers, but the vast majority are reasonable and will recognize that your mother flying to Toronto is reasonable, whether because of cost or because of other considerations. In the unlikely event that they challenge you, stick to your story -- the truth -- that it's more economical, that it's more convenient for her not to have to take two flights, and whatever other considerations factored into the decision.

For many places around Buffalo and Niagara Falls, it's probably also faster because having to change planes to get to Buffalo adds more time to the trip than one would need to drive from the Toronto airport.

I have some friends in Kingston (Ontario), and I've visited them on couple of occasions from New York City by flying to Syracuse and renting a car, because flights to Canada were something like 3 or 4 times the cost of a flight to Syracuse. One of those times, the Canadian border officer raised his eyebrow and said "Arkansas?" I had just enough presence of mind to remember that the car had Arkansas license plates, so I said "it's a rental," and then explained that the $100 flight plus the car rental and 2-hour drive seemed like the better option, and that was it. Since you live nearby, you will be far less likely to raise red flags. If you were bringing your mother in over the land border while being a resident of Colorado, you might have to have a more substantial explanation.

On one of my visits to Kingston, when we returned to the US, the officer looked at my passport and asked me what I'd been doing in Turkey -- where I had last been over a year previously. I think he asked because he couldn't ask my wife (she works for the UN and has "semi diplomatic" immigration status), but since I'm a US citizen I'm fair game. I would have pushed back -- pleaded the fifth or whatever -- but we had a plane to catch so I answered "vacation." That was the end of it.

I suppose what I'm getting at is that the officer may throw some things like this at you to see how you react: questions that could be seen as implying that something is afoot even though there's no reason for suspicion and the questions don't necessarily imply anything. They will be looking for a defensive reaction or signs of stress or nervousness. If you're nervous about your mother entering by the land border, and if you show this nervousness in response, they may pick up on that, and that is more likely to raise a red flag than anything else.

If that happens, just be honest about the reason for your nervousness and secure in the knowledge that there's absolutely nothing wrong with your mother's travel plans. Better still, be secure in that knowledge and realize that there's nothing to worry about.

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    @SpehroPefhany: They weren't asking because they wanted to know about the car. They were checking whether phoog was going to lie to them.
    – Kevin
    Nov 17, 2023 at 18:33
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    Arkansas? "I'm sorry, sir, what? I live in NYC." The car's license plate. "Oh! I guess so, sir, it's a rental and I didn't look that closely, I apologize. I've got the rental papers right here in the glove box if you'd like to review that." <-- would probably work, too. :)
    – FreeMan
    Nov 17, 2023 at 18:48
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    @FreeMan yes of course. But I was extremely puzzled for a second when I drove up to the passport inspector and all he said was "Arkansas."
    – phoog
    Nov 18, 2023 at 5:07
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    @SpehroPefhany in this case, "real time access to the registration data" means that the officer can see the word "Arkansas" on the plate as the car approaches. He wasn't asking whether the car was registered in Arkansas but where I had begun my drive. He may have known who owned the car but he probably didn't know from which office I had taken it.
    – phoog
    Nov 18, 2023 at 5:11
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    @Kevin he wanted to know where I was coming from and where I was going. I told him that I'd picked up the car in Syracuse and that I was going to Kingston. He asked what was in Kingston, and I said that we were visiting friends, though afterwards I wished I had just said "Sarah's graduation party" (not her real name!). Another time when we flew to visit the same friends, the officer in the airport asked my wife how she had met them. She said "I don't remember" and that was the end of that line of questioning. The answer did not seem to arouse any suspicion.
    – phoog
    Nov 18, 2023 at 5:17

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