Entering the U.S. border either by sea, land, or air is a time-consuming and tedious process, especially if it's your first time. However, adequate planning and knowing what to expect when you will be crossing the border for whichever reason can go a long way to make this process swift and less overwhelming. U.S. border entry rules became stricter in the wake of the terrorist attack by Al Qaeda on September 11, 2001.

Suppose you are a Mexican native citizen or a permanent resident. In that case, you must apply for a Border Crossing Card (BCC), which also acts as a B1/B2 visitor's visa if you wish to cross the U.S. border for recreation, medical or business purposes. To avoid the hassle of applying and meeting the eligibility requirements for a BCC, we invite you to contact California Immigration Attorney for a free consultation to know where to start with your application process.

An Overview of Border Crossing Card (BCC)

A Border Crossing Card (BCC) is typically a laminated document the size of a credit card that allows native Mexican citizens and permanent residents, including their children, to cross the U.S. border either by foot, land, sea, or air. The issuance of BCC is in the form of a unique card with enhanced graphics and technology for easy readability.

Once you receive a BCC either as a Mexican native citizen or a permanent resident, you will be able to use it for ten years (specified in front of the card) before it expires. On each entry to the U.S. border with this document, you have a maximum of 30 days to finish whatever you are doing there. After the expiration of a BCC, you have to renew it because it will be unlawful to be on the U.S. border with an invalid or expired card.

A BCC is equivalent to a B1/B2 visitor's visa to Mexicans eligible to obtain the card. B1/B2 visitors' visas are usually for Mexican tourists who want to visit the U.S. for recreation and other tourism activities. However, once you obtain a BCC, you'll be lawfully eligible to cross the U.S. border either for pleasure, business, or medical purposes within a specified area/distance from the border.

If you intend to stay in the U.S. for more than 30 days because of unfinished business or other vital issues, you should obtain Form I-94, which will allow you to stay in the country lawfully within the appointed period. Another vital thing to note is that, while a BCC allows you to enter the U.S. border, it does not allow you to seek employment in the country.

As mentioned earlier, the process of applying or obtaining a BCC to cross the U.S. border as a Mexican can be overwhelming without the assistance of an expert who understands these legal processes to the core. Take your time to find a reliable and experienced immigration attorney before you begin your BCC application process to cross the U.S-Mexican border.

Qualifications for Application of a Border Crossing Card (BCC)

First, the primary requirement to be eligible to obtain a U.S BCC, you need to be a Mexican citizen who lives in Mexico either by birth (native citizen) or as a permanent resident (green card holder). To that end, other eligibility requirements that you need to meet for a BCC are similar to that of obtaining a B1/B2 visa. These eligibility requirements include:

  • You must have a BCC application fee, which is currently $160, and enough money for your stay in the U.S
  • You must provide adequate proof to show that you have no intention of staying along the border for long, and you will return to your country after the visit based on your life attachments there

To prove the above eligibility requirements for a BCC when making your application to the U.S. consulate/embassy in your home country, you need to prepare some essential documents and forms to show your eligibility for this card ahead of time. An immigration attorney will help you understand, know, and find these documents for a successful BCC application without any erroneous or missing information.

Documents and Forms That You Need to Prepare When Applying for a Border Crossing Card

As mentioned above, the BCC application process and documents or forms you need to prepare are similar to those of the B1/B2 visa application. These documents include government forms that you can obtain online and other documents you will carry during your BCC interview with a consular officer at the U.S. consulate. You must attach the following essential documents in your BCC application form:

Border Crossing Card Receipt

Before an interview with U.S consular officer, you should pay a BCC application fee of $160 with a nearby financial institution if you are over 15 years of age. On the other hand, if a parent is applying for a BCC for a child below the age of 15, he/she will pay a reduced fee of $16 only.

Children are not eligible to apply for a BCC without their parents' company with a valid BCC. Once a child turns 15 years while at the border, he/she must apply for a new valid BCC at a fee of $160. You must keep your BCC fee receipt to prove to the consular officer that you are eligible for the card because most consulates will not allow you to pay your application fee during your interview.

A Valid Mexican Passport

Suppose you apply for a BCC to cross the US-Mexico border by air, sea, or through any other port of entry means. In that case, you must carry your valid Mexican passport when going for an interview with the consular officer at the U.S consulate. Other applicants wishing to obtain a BCC to cross the U.S-Mexican border over the land or by a pleasure vessel like a cruise ship will not need documents like a passport.

One Photo of You

Your BCC application should also contain a clear photo (passport size) of yourself. We recommend visiting a professional photographer who knows the required photo specifications for applying for a BCC to get the right photo that meets eligibility requirements for obtaining a BCC.

All Documents that Can Show the Purpose of Your Trip

Suppose you intend to enter the U.S. border for a specific course like a business. In that case, you should prepare all the necessary documents that can prove this to the consular officer during your BCC interview, for example:

  • A proof of the hotel you will be meeting
  • Travel itinerary or
  • Various tickets arrangement

Evidence to Show that You will Return to Your Home Country After Your Stay

The U.S. does not want BCC holders to remain in the country even if they find a job here without valid documentation like a green card or work permit. Therefore, when applying for a BCC, you must attach documents to show that you will return to your home country after completing your stay within the U.S border.

Gather all types of documents that can show you have an attachment to your home country, for example:

  • A proof of your businesses back at home like lease apartments
  • A proof your marriage certificate
  • Evidence of your relationship with other family members or relatives who needs your presence there
  • Evidence showing that you have a job and your employer expects you to return within a certain period
  • If you are a student, you can also attach your student I.D. to your BCC application

Lack of these kinds of strong ties with your home country can lead to denial of a Border Crossing Card (BCC).

Employer Letter if You Are Planning to Cross the Border for Business Purposes

Suppose you plan to visit the U.S. for business purposes as an employee. In that case, you must carry a letter from your employer that clearly describes your job purpose, what you will be doing during your stay, and the job period. Your employer's letter back in your country should clarify that you don't expect any U.S employer to pay you during your stay in the country.

Evidence to Show That You are Capable of Covering Your Bills While in the U.S.

When applying for a BCC to cross the U.S. border for whichever reason, you must attach documents to show that you will not be relying on public assistance, need-based government assistance, or employment to make cover your bills once in the country. Depending on your current situation or reason for seeking a BCC, you can include the following types of documents in your application to prove that you can cover your expenses:

  • A letter from a friend or family member inviting you over to visit
  • Bank statements showing your current financial status or personal financial statements
  • Documents or forms that shows your current sources of income, for example, an employer letter

When applying for a BCC, you should check your consulate website in your country to know the acceptable means of application delivery, whether it is by mail in advance or you can carry it during your consular interview.

What to Expect During the Consular Interview for a BCC Application

If you don't live in the same city or town as the U.S. consulate/embassy in Mexico, you should plan for your interview ahead of time. That means, if you live far away from the U.S. consulate/embassy, you should start your journey to the BCC consular interview at least a day before to avoid waiting in line because there might be other people with the same need.

When attending your consular interview, you should plan for your safety because there is a possibility of crimes around U.S consulates. Local criminals usually know that candidates applying for a BCC or other immigration visas have sizable sums of money with them during consular interviews.

Therefore, it's not a surprise to meet with goons around this area who will try to convince you that you can't get through the front door unless you pay some money first, which is a lie. Beware of those kinds of criminals and take all the necessary precautions that are available within your reach when attending a consular interview for a BCC.

Upon entering the U.S. consulate premises for your consular interview, you will pass through a clerk who will check the forms and documents you are carrying to ensure everything is essential for your BCC application.

Next, you will be allowed to meet with a consular officer who will place you under oath as you answer all his/her questions during your BCC application review and interview. Most of the questions you should expect from the consular officer during this moment are identical to those on your BCC application form and documents. Therefore, you should be familiar with them in advance and take your time to answer every question correctly.

If you are not sure about any question that you think might affect your BCC eligibility, it is wise to say you can't remember than guessing. Alternatively, it is also imperative to consult with an immigration attorney before going for a BCC consular interview for legal counsel and guidance on what to expect during the interview and how to respond to the consular officer’s probable questions.

Suppose everything goes well during the consular interview. In that case, the consular officer will request you to return another different day to pick your BCC, or sometimes they can also send it to you via reliable courier services.

What You Should Remember After Receiving a Border Crossing Card (BCC)

Once you receive a BCC, you should remember the limitation of the distance you can travel within the U.S. and the card's expiry date to avoid unnecessary charges. A BCC does not allow you to travel more than 25 miles beyond the U.S-Mexico border into California and Texas. On the other hand, in Mexico, you can only travel a maximum of 55 miles beyond the border and a maximum of 75 miles into Arizona.

Traveling further than that within the U.S. is prohibited for a BCC holder. If you need to travel more distance within the U.S, you will have to talk with Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers at the port of entry and request Form I-94 at a small fee. Form I-94 indicates the type of status you have and how long you can continue staying in the U.S.

Note that your BCC's ten-year validity period refers only to the time-frame in which you can legally cross the border and not the time-frame you should stay in the United States. Many people believe the ten-year validity period of the BCC is the period in which they can remain in the U.S, which is untrue.

If you continue to stay in the U.S. past 30 days following your entrance into the country, you will accrue what is known as “unlawful presence” and can result in severe unnecessary consequences. However, it is possible to continue your stay if you wish to by obtaining Form I-94, which will allow you to stay for a particular period.

To know more about a BCC and its limitations, you should talk to an immigration attorney if you are unsure how long you can stay and its validity. We invite you to contact California Immigration Attorney for any query you might have concerning a BCC so that you can make the right decision during your application and your stay in the U.S.

Extending Your Stay in the U.S. with a Border Crossing Card

As mentioned above, if you continue to remain in the U.S. past the time-frame allowed by your BCC, you will begin to accrue "unlawful presence" status every day you extend and lead to severe consequences, including inadmissibility into the country again. Therefore, it is advisable to request Form I-94 if you have a BCC to get B1/B2 visa status.

Even with B1/B2 visa status, your time here will be of the essence, so you've to complete what you are doing in the U.S. while it's still valid. Form I-94 is an essential document if you intend to exceed your days within the U.S. as a BCC holder because it shows you are in the country lawfully and the date which you should leave. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials use Form I-94 to track non-citizens or foreign visitors entering and leaving the U.S.

Visitors crossing the U.S border by air or sea are issued Form I-94 electronically. However, foreigners entering the country by land can receive Form I-94 in paper form at the U.S port of entry. Form I-94 is a small white document attached to your BCC if you enter the U.S through the land. Those entering the U.S. through air or sea can download their Form I-94 online on the CBP website.

If CBP approves your Form I-94 request, they will assign you a unique code on your record in their database for your specific entry in the U.S. That means every time you enter the U.S. and request Form I-94, CBP assigns you a different Form I-94 number. When leaving the U.S, you should remember to hand over your Form I-94 because that is how CBP officers track your departure from the country.

Consequences of Unlawful Presence In the U.S with Invalid/Expired BCC

When you enter into the U.S. through the Mexico border with a BCC, you will have a maximum of 30 days to finish your activities in the country before you start accruing unlawful presence. You accrue "unlawful presence" status with each day you overstay in the U.S. with a BCC or Form I-94 if you choose to extend your stay for a particular period to finish your activities in the country.

Unlawful presence can result in serious consequences next time you try to enter the country, depending on how long you stayed in the U.S. unlawfully with an invalid BCC or Form I-94. Depending on how long you stayed in the country past your BCC time limit, you will not be able to return to the U.S. for a period of three- or ten-year, also known as "time bars" according to INA Section 212 (a)(9)(B).

If you must leave the country or face deportation after overstaying with a BCC, these time bars will affect when you can come back to the U.S again, as explained below:

  • Three Years – When you spend more than 180 continuous days in the U.S. with an invalid BCC or a visa, and you decide to leave the country voluntarily without being caught or facing deportation, you will not be eligible to enter the country for three years
  • Ten Years – You will be subject to a ten-year time bar when you spend more than one continuous year in the country with an invalid/expired BCC or Form I-94 even if you decide to leave the country on your own without deportation

If you receive a time bar barring you from entering the U.S, you have to wait until that period is over before you try to seek a visa or a BCC to enter the country again. However, depending on your situation, you could be eligible for a waiver of the consequences of unlawful presence in the U.S. If USCIS approves your waiver request, you will be able to leave the country shortly after an interview with the U.S. consulate officer.

If you accrue unlawful presence in the U.S. and leave with a three- or ten-year time bar, it will be illegal for you to get back or try to enter the country again earlier, and it might lead to a "permanent bar." Permanent bar means you are inadmissible and will be ineligible to enter back the country not just for three or ten years, but forever.

In conclusion, a BCC (Border Crossing Card) is a valuable piece of document as a Mexican citizen, whether as a native or a permanent resident, if you wish to take a trip to the U.S. for a short period. As long as you have proper documentation to prove your eligibility for a BCC and can afford to pay its fee, obtaining a BCC will be useful even if you don't intend to travel too far from the U.S border.

Find an Immigration Attorney

For legal counsel and an easy time when applying for a Border Crossing Card (BCC) to cross the U.S. border as a Mexican citizen, we invite you to contact California Immigration Attorney at 424-789-8809. We will help you arrange all the necessary documents for the application and offer you the legal advice you need when going for a consular interview to ensure you meet the BCC eligibility requirement.