Why OPT students are always sent to Secondary Inspection when entering the U.S

Image from Wikipedia

After graduating from UC Berkeley in May of 2015, I began working for a Silicon Valley startup company on OPT (Optional Practical Training). For those of you who are unfamiliar with the OPT, it allows foreign students to work in the U.S for at least a year after graduation from college. Ever since obtaining the OPT, I have traveled overseas three times, and each time I reentered U.S, I was sent to Secondary Inspection by the U.S customs. Apparently, it does not just happen to me, but to every other OPT students trying to reenter the country.

What’s the big deal? Secondary Inspection may sound harmless, but it’s the worst thing to happen when you just got off a 13 hour flight. Instead of returning to your fluffy bed to cure your jet-lag, you are guided by a customs officer to a dimly-lit, muted room to “sit and wait”. You can expect to stay there for an hour or so, without using your smartphone or any electronic devices until an officer calls your name. So if you forgot your book, you are pretty much just sitting on a chair staring at busy officers and other poor souls sent to Secondary Inspection. So yeah, I hate Secondary.

I pride myself in being the most legal “alien” in the U.S. I have all the necessary documents plus alpha to prove that I am more than welcome in this country. But why do I get sent to Secondary and get my pride shattered every time? I pondered about this many times and came up with several potential answers:

  1. I look like a terrorist after 13 hours of slobbing on the plane seat.
  2. The U.S does not want me because they hate foreign students (sob).
  3. Donald Trump.

Without a plausible answer, I decided to ask a customs officer on my last trip from Vancouver. Turns out, it was not my problem but U.S Customs’ problem. Once you graduate as an F-1 student, your program is labeled completed in the U.S customs system. However, your OPT status fails to transfer to the system. This makes you look like an illegal visitor with potentially fake documents such as the I-20 and the EAD. The woes of faulty backend systems haunting every details of our lives SMH.

Me while writing this article

All three times I was sent to Secondary, customs officers kindly apologized, sent an email to somebody to fix this issue, and promised me this won’t happen again. Well, that somebody who gets these emails really have to get to work.

So there you go. The U.S Customs doesn’t hate you, it just can’t figure out its own mess. Next time you get sent to Secondary Inspection, ask them what the problem is so it gets more attention.

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