I am a US citizen living abroad. Soon I will return to the US on vacation, but I will be taking a friend with me who is not a US citizen.

There's no issues with visas, rather my question is in regards to the procedure during customs / immigration. Am I allowed to take them with me in the line for US citizens or will they need to separately go through the line designated for visitors?

Edit: Friend is a citizen of a country within the VWP.

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    Ohhh, that's different. See, in major mainland Airports there are kiosks used both by US, Canadian and VWP citizens as well as permanent residents (the exact rules vary from Airport to Airport) but the overseas territories don't have them, so I'd imagine it's the "old" system. In that case, you could go through the non-US line, as you have an absolute, undisputable right to enter your own country – Coke Sep 7 '16 at 9:43
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    You're both adults, I presume. Why can't you go through separately? You can meet up at baggage claim or outside arrivals. – Roddy of the Frozen Peas Sep 7 '16 at 11:30
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    I've been told on a few occasions to go to the US citizens line with my non-US-citizen traveling companions. I've never been told to split up, or that we would have to go together to the non-US line. Just ask when you get there; try to ask a CBP officer rather than a security person. – phoog Sep 7 '16 at 14:44
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    @RoddyoftheFrozenPeas they obviously can go through separately, but why would they want to when there's no need? – phoog Sep 7 '16 at 14:56
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    I should clarify my comment. I have been told to split up, by airport security personnel who were directing US and non-US citizens to the appropriate line. I ignored them, and when I got to the counter, I asked the CBP officer about their instructions, and the officer said, "they don't know what they're talking about." So the airport security personnel do not necessarily receive very detailed training about the rules concerning the various lines. – phoog Sep 7 '16 at 15:38
up vote 6 down vote accepted

This depends on the arrival airport, and whether your friend have visited the USA after 2008.

If you fly into one of the airports which has Automated Passport Control (the link lists all them and it seems like every major airport is there), then YES, your friend can use this line if he visited the USA after 2008:

Who Is Eligible to Use APC?

U.S. and Canadian passport holders and international visitors from Visa Waiver Program countries are eligible to use APC kiosks. Visa Waiver Program visitors must have Electronic System for Travel Authorizations (ESTA) approval prior to travel and have visited the United States on at least one occasion after 2008.

If you don't fly to an airport with APC, you need to ask the person managing the citizen/noncitizen line (some small airports don't even separate them). CBP officers in "US citizen" line are certainly capable to process non-citizens, including even people with visitor visas.

  • At Miami VWP nationals don't even need to have previous entries – Coke Sep 7 '16 at 9:42
  • Thank you for this response, this is really good information! Unfortunately, the airport I'm going (Guam) was not listed in this article. – Traveling Sep 7 '16 at 9:45
  • Are you traveling as kind-of-family, filing up only one custom declaration? Or each of you will have your own custom declaration? – George Y. Sep 7 '16 at 9:54
  • @Crazydre that's the official requirement from CBP, which seems to be current. Personally I went through the same passport control agent with my sister (who had a visa, so she wasn't even VWP), but it was a very small arrival at cruise terminal. – George Y. Sep 7 '16 at 9:57
  • @GeorgeY. That is not the universal truth, as it is a matter of Airport policy (and not what the machines are capable of). Philadelphia only lets US citizens and Permanent residents use APC, whereas at JFK and Toronto even B1/B2 visa holders can – Coke Sep 7 '16 at 14:44

The currently accepted answer depends on automated passport control (APC), but not all airports have APC.

I have traveled to the US with non-US-citizen companions on many occasions, beginning around 15 years ago. I've never used APC.

CBP officers have told me on several occasions to bring my non-US companions with me in the US citizens' line. More recently, I have used the diplomats' line because I was traveling with someone who was entitled to use that line.

From these experiences, I infer that the basic principle is for people traveling together to approach passport control together, and to pick whichever line they think is best as long as at least one person in the group is eligible for that line.

This obviously might not apply to APC, since APC can't process all travelers. Since I have never used APC, however, I am not in a position to offer any useful speculation about that.

Your friend is definitely not allowed in the US line. Your better rights don't extend to them just because they're your friend.

The big question that I thought you'd be asking is; are you allowed in the non-US line with them? This one is hazier.

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    Thanks for your response. It wasn't a question of rights, it's just that the US line tends to be much faster and it'd be easier to coordinate if we didn't need to split and wait. I've seen people do this in front of me in the past, but I wasn't sure if it was acceptable to do. – Traveling Sep 7 '16 at 9:35
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    US citizens have an absolute right to enter the US (including Guam), so OP can use the non-US line – Coke Sep 7 '16 at 9:44
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    @Crazydre If they have an absolute right of entry, I guess they can use the crew line and the diplomat line too then ;) – Berwyn Sep 7 '16 at 14:40
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    @phoog Yes, I was just commenting on the justification – Berwyn Sep 7 '16 at 15:07
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    Your "absolute right of entry" doesn't mean the officer can't say "you're in the wrong line, go to the back of that one" and make you wait, such as might happen if you tried to use a diplomat line without cause. – Zach Lipton Sep 7 '16 at 16:45

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