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Getting Through Customs and Immigration at Miami Airport

Immigration wait times at MIA just got longer.
August 30, 2012 By Jess in Miami: Travel News  | 9 Comments

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Flying to the USA requires a certain degree of patience when you land at Miami International airport. The USA immigration laws are some of the strictest in the world. Visas to work here are scarce, and green cards enabling people to live here without restriction are very hard to get. Getting through immigration at Miami airport is not easy, with the officers questioning and detaining many passengers as they pass through the busy gateway into the USA. The new Customs and Immigration hall opened last month, with the promise of shorter lines and quicker processing times. However, the new system has increased wait times and infuriated passengers visiting Miami.

The new immigration hall opened behind schedule last month, at a cost of 180 million dollars. With 72 passenger lanes, it is the length of a football field, so surely this should speed up waiting times? According to the airport’s Communications Director, the old immigration hall in Terminal E used to take an hour or more to get through and the new facility should quicken things up. “We are thinking, on an average, it will be 15 to 20 minutes less than it was before.”

Americans Go To The Front Of The Line

The reality though, is far different. The new arrivals hall is split into Visitors, Residents and Citizens. This is a new concept for Miami immigration, which previously let US residents and citizens pass through the same lane. Now, if you have a green card, you are also in a huge line of people and are not allowed to pass through with US citizens, no matter how long you have lived here or if you are married to an American. The visitor lines are long and slow moving and the staff are unfriendly.

If you are a US citizen you seemingly get special treatment, and the staff will tell you to go in front of other waiting visitors and residents straight through to a waiting officer. US citizens have no line, as they are waved through at the expense of everyone else waiting. Is this a way to welcome guests and tourists to the City of Miami? By giving them a longer waiting period at the unfriendly immigration hall? I think not.

Online blogs, forums and articles have been loudly complaining about MIA’s new immigration wait times, with many visitors being made to wait over two hours. Trip Advisor forums are full of complaints, with members stating:

There was one member of staff managing the international line which was chaos. I will never fly into MIA again.”

“There were many people in the line missing connections who were just told tough”

Officials at MIA say the new hall is here to stay, with the possibility of re opening Terminal E’s hall in the future. Many of the international passengers land at Terminal E or F and have a long 20 minute walk to the new hall located in terminal D. I can only hope terminal E will reopen for their sakes. Not many people want a 20 minute walk after a being cramped on board a long international flight.

If you do find yourself flying to Miami from another country, make sure to prepare yourself for your trip, and a longer wait at immigration. In the meantime, please also remember to do the following:

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Have you completed your ESTA form?

The Electronic System for Travel Authorization is required by all people traveling to America from a country that takes part in the Visa Waiver Program. These countries include most of the European Union, four countries in Asia, and Australia and New Zealand. If you are traveling from these countries, you do not need to go to an embassy to apply for a regular 90 day travel visa, but you will need to complete the ESTA online form or you will not be permitted to travel.
The ESTA form was brought in after 9/11, as a way to pre screen visitors coming to the US. Approval takes no time at all, but it does cost $14. Make sure to apply through the official US government website, and not through a third party site that will charge you much more for doing the same thing.
If you do not complete this form, the airline will not allow you to travel. When ESTA was first introduced, many thought it would cut immigration time. Unfortunately this was not the case.

Landing at MIA if you are a Visitor

Passing through immigration when you land in America can be a daunting experience. Even with a visa, you don’t have the right to enter the US; only the immigration officer can make that decision. US immigration officials are trained to suspect that everyone who doesn’t have the right to live and work here is a potential illegal immigrant, and so they question everyone for as long as they deem necessary. Unfortunately this leads to long lines in the immigration hall. Miami and New York’s JFK airport are widely known to have the worst wait times in the country.
Another new regime implemented since 9/11 is that all visitors must have their fingerprints taken and their photo captured before passing through. Some airports will even scan the iris in your eye. Be sure to correctly fill out the landing card forms they hand out on the plane, and be calm when you are talking to the immigration officer and this will speed the process along.

Be careful of connecting flight times

Not everyone passing through Miami is coming to stay. The reason Miami has such a busy airport is while it is a tourist destination, it is also a major airline hub. Many people connect through here from South America. If you connect in Miami and it is the first American airport in your trip, you will need to clear immigration here. So keeping in mind the above waiting times, and make sure to have at least 2-3 hours in between your flights.

Related Categories: Miami: Travel News,

A SoBe resident for 5 years, Jess’s writing focuses on healthy living in South Beach with a dose of British humor and a cheerful outlook on life in Miami. She can be found moderating the forum Miami Beach 411.

See more articles by Jess.

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9 Comments on

"Getting Through Customs and Immigration at Miami Airport"

Matt Meltzer says:

I’ll just reiterate what I said in the forums:

You may complain if you’re not from here, but this airport is, technically anyway, in the USA. So, yes, revamping it is going to make it easier for AMERICANS. Because,again, technically, it’s OUR country.

So remaking the lines so legit citizens can get through faster makes sense. Does in inconvenience people from other countries? Sure. But it’s not their airport. It’s ours, as such the goal should be to make it easier for US.

Point is, shut your whining foreigners. Feel free to return the favor if I decide to visit whatever 3rd world pit of filth you’re coming here from. But for now understand this is like the one thing Miami has ever done to accommodate Americans. And we don’t post on forums complaining about it because we like it.

Posted on 09/03/2012 at 10:11 AM

jess says:

Now our Florida Gov is weighing in on the argument:

Florida Gov. Rick Scott weighed in Thursday on a staffing controversy involving customs and immigration officers at Miami International Airport, telling the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that the personnel shortage “has the potential to damage Florida’s image” and business growth.

In a letter to homeland security Director Janet Napolitano, Scott said because Customs and Border Protection cannot adequately meet staffing levels at MIA — only about half the lanes are fully staffed — baggage is getting lost and passengers are missing flights.

But when the North Terminal opened in July, Customs and Border Protection failed to supply enough agents to fill the 152 immigration lanes at the airport’s three terminals, north, south and central. Now, only about half the lanes have enough staffing. To make up for the shortfall, Airport Director Jose Abreu shut the Central Terminal immigration lanes and shifted its staff to the North Terminal.

That means a walk of up to 1,400 feet, or about a quarter mile, for some passengers.

http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/09/20/3012518/gov-scott-to-feds-more-personnel.html

Posted on 09/21/2012 at 9:25 AM

Matt Meltzer says:

Holy shit, Rick Scott did something right.

I don’t see this becoming a trend, though.

Posted on 09/21/2012 at 12:55 PM

Marty Olsen says:

I travel international all the time for my job, and most airports around the world have special lanes and treatment for their citizens. I am so glad that the US is doing that same thing in Miami for US citiaens.

Posted on 02/28/2013 at 12:24 AM

Theresa says:

I am a naturalized US citizen, British born. I came into the US in the last 20 years on various visas: a B1/B2 visa, a C1D visa, an F1 visa, then a green card. Guess what, the only time I got really grilled at Immigration, was when I finally had my US passport! Go figure.

Posted on 03/30/2013 at 8:05 PM

Jess says:

Wow, that’s interesting. Usually they just say to me, “welcome home ma’am”.

I only got grilled once in the US when the officer couldn’t find an entry stamp from the country I had visited. I had to produce my second passport to show her I don’t get entry stamps when I visit my other home country. She wasn’t too pleased about that.

Posted on 03/30/2013 at 10:46 PM

Deez says:

Miamis the bestttt im glad it taking care of our citizens im gonna arrive on monday and the citizens and us resident lane is only fair;)

Posted on 05/13/2013 at 2:04 PM

Cary says:

I have been out of the country on vacation several times and I must say that Miami immigration officers have the nastiest attitude towards passangers. I am an American Citizen and every time I come back into the US I get treated like crap by them. They not only need a change on the wait time. They beed attitude adjustments.

Posted on 06/23/2013 at 10:35 PM

Marc says:

My family and I just got back from vacation. The lines were taking forever and one of my daughters was sick so my wife and I decided to get in two lines at the same time to speed up, when it was my turn my wife and my other daughter came with me (to the line I was in). When the Immigration Officer noticed that he did NOT want to process our papers and he sent us back to do the line all over again. I explained the officer that one of my daughters was sick but he DID NOT care. We felt so frustrated. Worst experience ever and the Worst attitude towards passengers. I guess that officer does not have kids and have no idea how you feel when your kids are sick. What a lack of respect and understanding towards passengers.

Posted on 07/03/2013 at 6:44 PM

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