New York Statue of LibertyIt might be too early to talk about summer vacations but taking a long and expensive trip to places like the United States requires planning and preparation.  If you are a Filipino tourist in this country, it is prudent to travel light.  After all, your purpose is to  visit friends and family and, if time and money  permit, to see places like Hollywood, Disney World, Las Vegas, Florida or the Statue of Liberty.

Being granted a “multiple entry, 10-year B1/B2 visa” by the US Embassy is a privilege that you are expected to respect and cherish.

Early last summer, Connie, holder of a US visitor’s visa, travelled to the US.  Unfortunately, she was accosted at the port of entry, refused entry and sent back home simply because certain documents that she brought with her are inconsistent with her claim that she is a tourist who wants to visit the US.

What are these documents?  In her luggage were her birth certificate, annulment decree, original land titles for Philippine properties, birth certificates of her children and a copy of her letter of resignation from her employment in a Philippine company.

A visitor is expected to bring “personal effects” when she travels. By definition, personal effects are “items that belong to, and are used by one person, such as wearing apparel, jewelry, photographic equipment and tape recorders.”

The items Connie brought were not even close to this definition, and this alerted the immigration officers. Hand-carried items as well as suitcases are meticulously examined and, at times, unreasonably scrutinized primarily for homeland security reasons. The examination is intended to check for any violation that could cause trouble once the alien is allowed entry into the US.

During Connie’s intense interrogation by port-of-entry officers, it was discovered that the purpose of her trip was  to marry her US citizen fiancé.  Six months ago, she applied for a US tourist visa, claiming she just wanted to visit friends who live in California and who can show her around in Hollywood and Beverly Hills.

She also stated that it was going to be a short one as she can take only a time-off from work for a month and that her husband and kids are not coming with her.

With this representation, the US consular officer issued her a visa.  But what she brought with her seems to tell a different intent for her coming to the US.  She had documents that created suspicion and  attracted an inspecting officers’ attention.

Under US immigration rules, there are different visas for different purposes. If one intends to come to the US to marry a fiancé, you should apply for a fiancée visa   (not a tourist visa which is  comparatively faster to obtain than a fiancée visa).

The consequences when you are caught lying are long-term and devastating. Connie’s fiancé, Ralph, tried to apply for a fiancée visa and was approved because their relationship is genuine but she was refused a fiancée visa because she had previously lied about her intentions in applying for a tourist visa.

Later, Ralph went to the Philippines and married her. He did not waste time in applying for a spousal petition and got approval. But again, Connie was denied issuance of an immigrant visa.

The term “personal effects” sounds broad, and it could be anything, but it is not. These are what they are – clothes, shoes, cosmetics and small pieces of jewelry.

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Maria Rita Reyes-Stuby
Maria Rita Reyes-Stuby is a licensed attorney in Michigan. She is a graduate of the University of the Philippines College of Law. She specializes in immigration and practices in Las Vegas, Michigan, California and other states.


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