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My sister-in-law will be flying through the US on a transit visa as she returns from Europe. She has done this before but this time we had applied for a tourist visa. She was just denied the tourist visa. She currently just has the first leg of the return trip from Europe to Newark. She gets in Newark around noon. Would it be permissible to book her remaining travel (leaving the US from Newark), the next day so she can stay with us (not very far from the airport) for one night? In previous trips where she just had layovers for a few hours in the U.S., they had stamped and dated her passport for several days (almost a month) but the US State department travel website states "A foreign citizen whose layover in the United States is for a primary purpose other than to transit, for example to visit friends or sightsee, requires a visitor (B) visa."

Also, would it be a problem that the second leg of the trip is on a separate ticket? (I realize she will need to show that she has return passage when starting the trip.)

  • I'm not sure if it's relevant here, but it's always good practice to include the nationality of the person in question. What is your sister-in-law's citizenship? – Flimzy Nov 10 '15 at 20:06
  • She is Nicaraguan – Alex Nov 11 '15 at 0:20
  • The statement on the website is quite clear and your intentions obviously fall under what is covered. If she gets caught doing tourist visa actions on a transit visa AND has a previous tourist visa rejection, that could effect her ability to get any future transit or other US visas. – user13044 Nov 11 '15 at 2:24
  • So how did it go? – Michael Hampton Dec 11 '15 at 1:25
  • @MichaelHampton: the flight is scheduled for February but we are thinking of changing it to not have a layover just to be safe. – Alex Jan 5 '16 at 16:34
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The State Department's guidance notwithstanding, I don't think this will be a problem, but as always it will be up to the discretion of the immigration officer. Remember that the immigration officer will be looking for evidence that she will try to live in the US rather than depart on her scheduled flight. (Separate tickets are no problem, as long as she already has them before she arrives in the US.)

Your sister-in-law's situation with respect to US immigration is this:

  • She has a valid transit visa, but was denied a tourist visa.
  • She has a history of entering the US and not overstaying.

The history is important; it works in her favor by showing that she is less likely to attempt to try to live in the US. After all, she has had several opportunities to do so and has departed every time.

What she should do is:

  • Put down your address as the place she will stay overnight on her landing card.
  • Declare to immigration that she is transiting the US, departing the next day. When asked, she will explain that her brother-in-law (you) offered to let her stay there instead of having to get a hotel.

Why?

The primary purpose of her trip to the US is transiting the US. The fact that she will spend the night at your place is secondary. She could have stayed at a hotel, you could have been in Los Angeles, whatever.

Further, it is always best to be honest with immigration officials. Attempting to deceive them or hide material facts from them is a really good way to get oneself detained, removed, and have one's visa revoked. At the same time, you should only answer questions that are actually asked, and those briefly. Don't go into great detail unless asked.

And of course it is permitted for transiting passengers to leave the airport and do a brief bit of shopping, sightseeing or visiting if they have time to do so. Remember that the US does not have sterile transit areas, so it would be impossible to do otherwise. Everyone transits landside, which is why everyone has to have a visa (or visa waiver).

Finally, the maximum time that can be allowed for a US transit is 29 days, one of the longest of any country, though in fact travelers are expected to depart as soon as possible. This explains the dates on her previous stamps.

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    What kind of transit takes 29 days? Landing in New York and then going to Dallas by Horse? – CMaster Nov 11 '15 at 9:34
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    @CMaster Usually it's ship's crews that need that sort of time. But yes, an overland transit is certainly possible. – Michael Hampton Nov 11 '15 at 9:58
  • Thanks Michael. At one point I was thinking of asking if she could stay a couple days since the visa stamp is for 29 days but I decided it would be pushing it. – Alex Nov 11 '15 at 12:43
  • @Alex That probably wouldn't fly. (No pun intended.) At that point the primary purpose of the trip would be to visit, rather than transit. Transiting passengers are expected to take the next available flight, and while 24 hour layovers do happen often enough to be considered normal, 48 hour (or longer) ones are quite rare. – Michael Hampton Nov 11 '15 at 13:05

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