U.S. immigration law provides for the examination of all persons seeking admission to the U.S. by an immigration officer (CBP), at a port of entry. Once determined not to be a U.S. citizen, the applicant will be inspected as an “Alien”. There are, however, certain classes of aliens who are specifically exempt inspection and may not be excluded from the United States.
Members of U.S. Armed Forces
Non-citizen servicemen and women of the U.S. military forces entering the United States from abroad, under official orders, are exempt from the immigration inspection process. Such persons returning to the U.S. after a temporary trip are also eligible for this exemption without presenting any official orders. However, if found inadmissible for any reason, CBP will advise them accordingly and allow entry.
Members of NATO Armed Forces
The Agreement Between members of NATO regarding the Status of Forces (“Status of Forces Agreement”, or SOFA) states that NATO military personnel are normally exempt from immigration inspections and, until recently, were not issued a Form I-94 (Arrival/Departure document). Such persons enter the United States upon presentation of military I.D. and official orders. Countries currently party to the SOFA are: Belgium, Canada, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Turkey, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and the United States.
NATO aliens are exempt from inspection, but may be screened to confirm identity. NATO military personnel stationed in the United States for a significant period of time (over 6 months) need a Form I-94, Arrival/Departure Record, for “quality of life” reasons, such as to secure a social security number or a state-issued driver’s license.
To ensure that these persons routinely receive a Form I-94 at the time of inspection, the U.S. Department of State has recommended that NATO personnel entering for a significant period of time be issued a visa at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate abroad. Accordingly, although not required, NATO personnel may present a visa at the time of inspection so that a Form I-94 may be issued.
A NATO military nonimmigrant who is an applicant for admission and intends to remain in the United States for a significant period of time and who does not have a visa may present a letter concerning the nature of the intended stay in the United States so that CBP has a legal basis for issuing an I-94 card. Such a letter must include a specific and concrete explanation of the nature, location, and duration of the NATO member’s stay in the United States, a request for a Form I-94 and the signature of the NATO country commander or designee in the United States where the alien is to reside for a significant period of time. The Form I-94 should be issued for the length of stay as specified in the individual’s military orders.