Transit Alien

What Is a Transit Alien?

The term transit alien refers to a foreign-born noncitizen, or alien, who is passing through the United States. In general, transit alien status is not applied for but is instead assigned as a classification by the U.S. Center for Immigration Services (USCIS).

In order to be classified as a transit alien, the individual must be “in immediate and continuous transit through the United States.” This means that the individual does not stop their journey to visit friends, sightsee, or otherwise interrupt the flow of travel. 

Transit aliens may or may not have a visa that allows them to pass through the United States. Some other visas also automatically include transit alien permissions. Similarly, aliens from certain nations have the requirement for transit visas waived. In general, aliens who are residents of the following countries do not need a C-1 transit visa:

  • Andorra
  • Australia
  • Austria
  • Belgium
  • Brunei
  • Chile
  • Czech Republic
  • Denmark
  • Estonia
  • Finland
  • France
  • Germany
  • Greece
  • Hungary
  • Iceland
  • Ireland
  • Italy
  • Japan
  • South Korea
  • Latvia
  • Liechtenstein
  • Lithuania
  • Luxembourg
  • Malta
  • Monaco
  • Netherlands
  • New Zealand
  • Norway
  • Portugal
  • San Marino
  • Singapore
  • Slovakia
  • Slovenia
  • Spain
  • Sweden
  • Switzerland
  • Taiwan
  • The United Kingdom.

Aliens with these exemptions do still have to meet some basic requirements in order to be granted a visa waiver. Other circumstances where an individual may not need a C-1 transit visa include foreign government officials, their immediate family, and qualifying aliens passing to and from the United Nations Headquarters District.

Key Takeaways

  • A transit alien is a foreign national who is within the U.S. borders in order to pass on to another destination outside the country.
  • Transit aliens may apply for a C-1 transit visa but nationals from certain countries are exempt from this requirement and can instead file for a visa waiver.
  • While within the U.S. transit aliens are allowed to pause for reasonable reasons such as a layover but they are not permitted to go out sightseeing or to meet friends within the country as they must remain in transit.
  • If you need to file for a C-1 visa to gain transit alien status, or you wish to expand your C-1 visa to allow for more leisure while passing through the U.S., an experienced Immigration Law attorney may be able to improve the outcome of your case by utilizing experience and expert knowledge.

Transit Aliens and Immigration Law

Transit aliens may not be applying for lawful permanent resident status, but they do still generally require a transit visa and are bound by specific rules. In general, these rules focus on the requirements that a transit alien’s travel is “immediate and continuous.”

The USCIS defines immediate and continuous travel as a departure that is “reasonably expeditious.” This means that the transit alien must follow the assumed itinerary and not linger for an unreasonable amount of time. Reasonable delays that the USCIS acknowledges include weather delays, layovers between flights or trains, or other unexpected circumstances that delay travel. However, if the transit alien delays their travel through the U.S. for purposes of sightseeing or to visit friends or family, they will be considered to be in violation of their C-1 visa.  If a transit alien does want to see friends or sightsee while in the U.S., the individual must apply for layover privileges by seeking out an appropriate visa.

Some other visas include C-1 visa privileges. Examples include the B-1 Business visa or the B-2 Tourist visa. These visas also include permission to partake in non-transit activities such as visiting various attractions, historical sites, or meeting with friends and family.

In addition to rules regarding the behavior of C-1 visa holders, there is also a time limit. A C-1 visa holder can only remain in the United States for a maximum of 29 days. The C-1 visa holder must depart from the U.S. within the 29 allotted days on the flight, ship, or ground transport that they named on their visa application while complying with all other C-1 restrictions. Failure to comply with these conditions may result in apprehension by the USCIS or Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents.

Bottom Line

If you need to apply for a C-1 visa to enter the United States as a transit alien, or you are already an approved C-1 visa holder looking to expand your layover permissions, you will need the help of an experienced Immigration Law attorney. An Immigration Law attorney will be able to advise you and advocate on your behalf in order to get you the best possible outcome for your case.

Using their legal expertise, trial tactics, and expert witnesses, your Immigration Law attorney can explore your options with you as well as present your case in the most compelling light possible and deftly navigate the complex processes of immigration bureaucracy as well as the obscure functions of immigration court.

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