Why an Airline Might Deny Boarding to U.S. Visa Holder

Reasons why the airline might deny boarding to someone with a valid U.S. visa and suggestions to prevent such problems in the future.

By , Attorney · University of Arizona College of Law

There are times when airlines deny boarding to U.S.-bound passengers for immigration-related reasons. This can happen despite the passenger having a valid U.S. visa (we're assuming you plan to travel on a nonimmigrant, temporary visa). The airlines tend to err on the side of caution, knowing that if you are denied entry upon reaching the U.S., the airline must arrange your return travel and can potentially be fined thousands of dollars for boarding someone who lacks proper documents.

Additionally, airlines send passenger manifest information to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) in advance of boarding. That way, CBP can alert the airline if particular passengers should be turned away and not permitted to board.

Depending on the reason you were denied boarding, you might need to get a new visa or contact CBP before attempting to board a U.S.-bound plane again.

Why Won't the Airline Let You Board the Plane?

Here are some reasons why the airline might deny boarding to someone with a valid U.S. visa and suggestions to prevent such problems in the future.

Your U.S. Visa Was Revoked Without You Realizing It

Although your visa might still appear valid on its face, what's listed in the U.S. government system could be another matter entirely. The Department of State can revoke a visa electronically if it receives information indicating that the person is no longer eligible for it.

But, CBP will see that your visa was revoked, and communicate this to the airline before you board, during the pre-clearance process. Typically when a visa is revoked, the Department of State will attempt to notify the visa holder. But if your visa was very recently revoked or you have moved since it was issued, you might not have received the notification.

If the airline tells you that your visa was revoked, you will need to obtain a new visa before attempting to board another plane for the United States.

You Violated the Terms of Your U.S. Visa

If, during a prior trip to the United States, you stayed longer than you were permitted to or had other encounters with immigration or law enforcement, CBP might notify the airline that there is a possibility you will not be admitted. This means that CBP would need to actually talk to you to make the determination. But the airline is all too aware of its responsibilities if you are, in fact, denied entry. It is within the airline's discretion whether to allow you to board.

Airline officials will not be able to give you much information in this circumstance. The last section of this article provides suggestions to address this problem.

Your Name Is Similar to That of Someone Else Who Is Not Eligible for a U.S. Visa

You might have heard of the "No-Fly" list. CBP is constantly receiving information about people who are not eligible for visas for a variety of reasons, including security-related concerns. If you share the same biographical information with one of these individuals, CBP or Department of State will need to determine that you are not the same person.

Sometimes, this can be resolved in a short enough amount of time that you will be allowed to simply take a later flight. Other times, CBP will tell the airline to instruct you to obtain a new visa.

If you routinely experience travel delays related to your name, CBP has a system to address this, which is discussed later in this article.

Airline Notices Some Other Reason You Might Be Denied U.S. Entry

Even if the airline receives your pre-clearance from CBP, it might refuse to board you if it has other information indicating you might be denied entry by CBP.

This could happen if, for example, it sees that your passport is not valid for the amount of time required for nationals of your country entering the United States (typically six months but less for some countries). Or perhaps the airline suspects you are using an impostor passport and visa, in which case it would need to get separate approval from the U.S. consulate or embassy that issued your visa.

If you are traveling on a tourist visa, the airline might stop you from boarding based on its suspicion that CBP will deny you entry because you don't intend to return to your home country or you intend to work in the United States. This is not common, but it does happen. If you do not have a return ticket, airline agents might ask you additional questions to try and better ascertain whether you might be denied entry.

Pregnant women also report being denied boarding for reasons related to immigration. This is also not common, but could happen if CBP thinks the pregnant woman will give birth in the United States and cannot pay the medical expenses. It becomes more likely in the late stages of pregnancy (also for health-related reasons). For more information see Can I Travel to the U.S. While Pregnant?

If the airline denies you boarding for any of the above reasons, you probably don't need to obtain a new visa. If you want to book another trip to the United States, check with an airline first to see what its policies are before buying a ticket. Keep in mind that even if you successfully board another flight, CBP still might deny you entry for the same issues the airline noticed.

Being denied entry to the United States can have a lasting impact on your ability to travel there in the future.

How to Decrease the Likelihood You Will Be Denied Boarding Again

You might feel helpless and confused after being denied boarding for your U.S. trip, but there are steps you can take to reduce the chances it will happen again.

  • Find out why you were not allowed to board. Talk to the local manager of the airline or contact the embassy or consulate that issued your visa. Their answers will help you understand whether you should try boarding another flight using the same visa.
  • Make a CBP redress inquiry if you feel your were incorrectly denied boarding. CBP will then do an in-depth investigation. If CBP ultimately determines that you should be allowed to board a future flight, it will send you a resolution letter stating this. Then, your redress number will be linked to this "pre-clearance" determination. Next time you fly, create a frequent flyer account on the airline's website and enter your redress number into your profile. This will alert CBP to your previous experience and the resulting resolution.
  • Apply for a new visa containing an annotation. This is often the most effective step for would-be travelers who can't get a clear answer through any other method as to why they were denied boarding. Tell the consular officer what happened and ask for an annotation to your visa clarifying your eligibility. Be aware that the same standards of qualification apply for visa renewals, so you could walk away without a visa if you no longer qualify. You might also face delays while the consulate investigates why you were denied boarding and whether you truly qualify.
  • If you took steps to resolve the issue that prevented you from boarding the first time, and are nevertheless denied boarding again, ask the airline to call its CBP Regional Carrier Liaison Group. CBP operates a 24-hour carrier liaison hotline where air carriers can contact CBP to resolve pre-clearance issues with passengers or to ask questions about a passenger's visa and so forth.

Talk to a Lawyer

Need a lawyer? Start here.

How it Works

  1. Briefly tell us about your case
  2. Provide your contact information
  3. Choose attorneys to contact you

Talk to an Immigration attorney.

We've helped 85 clients find attorneys today.

How It Works

  1. Briefly tell us about your case
  2. Provide your contact information
  3. Choose attorneys to contact you