As widely reported, several Indian nationals were recently denied entry to the U.S., even though they possessed F-1 student visas. Some were denied entry at the border, at a U.S. airport, while some were not allowed to board flights from India, due to the universities that granted them admission (Silicon Valley University and National Polytechnic University).

This story is illustrative of the fact that being granted a visa by a U.S. consulate does not guarantee entry into the U.S. Applicants should be aware that issuance of a visa by a consular official only grants permission to travel to a U.S. port of entry, where they will apply for admission into the U.S. with Customs and Border Protection (CBP) pursuant to the specific visa issued by the consulate.

CBP can and will make its own determination concerning an applicant’s eligibility for entrance to the United States, and has full discretion to deny an application for entry and require the applicant to return to his home country, despite possession of a visa stamp, as in this recently reported case. In the case of an F-1 student applicant, in making a determination of eligibility, CBP may weigh factors such as: 

Reputation of the academic institution to which the applicant has applied: Being accepted to a university and being issued an I-20 does not guarantee anything. Immigrations & Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the FBI have investigated, raided, and shut down universities in the past for immigration fraud, where school administrators granted admission and issued I-20s to thousands of foreign nationals, with no intention to provide a legitimate education. Schools that are similarly susceptible to government investigation tend to grant admission to applicants with low GRE/TOEFL scores and poor academic performance.

Source of funds: F-1 students in the U.S. are required to show that they have adequate funds to pay for their tuition, room/board, etc., which would avoid the likelihood that they will work without authorization in order to support themselves. Consulates also ask for this information, but if the answers/evidence given at the border do not match the information given to the consulates, this inconsistency can call the applicant’s intentions into question.

Whether the applicant can answer basic questions concerning his expected study in the U.S.: Transcripts of interrogations at the border indicate that many applicants who were denied entry and sent back to India could not answer basic questions concerning their expected study in the U.S. Some could not identify the program/major in which they had enrolled, or the cost of tuition at their school.

The applicant’s own communications: CBP, along with other DHS agencies, can check applicants’ social media accounts, and can confiscate cell phones. Applicants’ chat and text transcripts on their own phones can lead to denial of entry, if those communications with family/friends indicate that the applicant does not actually plan to study in the U.S.

The case of the students who were denied admission indicates that coming to the U.S. on an F-1 visa should not be taken lightly. F-1 applicants should take the initiative to investigate and educate themselves for their planned F-1 study, and not rely solely on word-of-mouth or the direction of so-called “consultants.” While it appears that the schools were the main reason why these particular applicants came to the government’s attention, even if you are not planning to attend one of the “blacklisted” schools, be aware that the responsibility for proving eligibility for entry to the U.S. rests solely with the applicant.