Join 3,433 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


"I can only assess your mutual knowledge in a subjective context."
June 21, 2007 1:11 AM   Subscribe

Applications for UK visas are being denied for ridiculous reasons, says an independent monitor report. Among the reasons: never having been on holiday before, "failing to complete pivotal areas of Section 6", and "plan[ning] a holiday for no particular purpose other than sightseeing. BBC readers contribute their stories - from potential bridesmaids being told that they were only going to marry English men like their sister was doing, to not having good enough German.
posted by divabat (61 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

 
It would seem that some people are being denied tourist visas on any vague suspicion that they might not leave at the end of their visit. Maybe a response to the large number of people who do overstay their visas?

The UK is a funny place. They have a stingent immigration rules, passport control is quite rigorous and it seems as though they are very diligent and proper, but it's all a pro forma bureacratic performance.

Once you get into the country, it is obvious that there is no border control and they pretty much let anyone in. Which is actually pretty cool.
posted by three blind mice at 1:45 AM on June 21, 2007


a stingent

astringent

stringent
posted by three blind mice at 1:47 AM on June 21, 2007


I'm having a hard time telling if these visa people officious little martinets, xenophobes, or just complete arseholes. Whatever the details are behind this, I'm going to file it under "reasons why British customer service is the worst on the planet, and possibly even the known galaxy". I'm not being snarky or ungrateful, because I love living here, but people with service jobs here just don't give a fuck. Just go into Tesco: they wouldn't piss on you if you were on fire.

In the states, when you go into Wal~Fart, some old person greets you and gives your kid a sticker? Over here, when you go into Asda, they spit on you kick your child in the spleen.
posted by chuckdarwin at 1:47 AM on June 21, 2007 [12 favorites]


Why do Germans need a visa to enter the UK? As members of the EU, they can just walk in to any European country and start working/living here. This is enshrined under various laws, including the European Human Rights.

As a Brit, I can travel to and work in any European country this very moment if I wanted to.

With people from non-EU countries it's different, but I thought that America and Britain shared a non-visa treaty. I didn't need one when I went to the US for a business trip last year.
posted by humblepigeon at 1:48 AM on June 21, 2007


*and* kick your child in the spleen (dammit)
posted by chuckdarwin at 1:48 AM on June 21, 2007


three blind mice: in the second link one reader mentions that his girlfriend got turned away at the border due to having too much luggage.
posted by divabat at 1:56 AM on June 21, 2007


These stories are hilarious examples of the dry British wit. Being denied a visa to visit one's sister because it's been too long since one visited one's sister? Brilliant.
posted by Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America at 2:01 AM on June 21, 2007 [6 favorites]


Passport control at Dover argued with me once that I did not "live in" the UK, as my visa was not permanent. The fact my primary residence was in Berkshire (and everything I own excepting my holiday luggage), didn't matter to him. Perhaps he didn't approve of the "to accompany partner" reason on my visa. Perhaps he just suffered from some provincial notion of what it means to "live in" a country. The folks at the consulate in Duesseldorf gave us no trouble, however. But we weren't applying for tourist visas.
posted by Goofyy at 2:08 AM on June 21, 2007


According to the UK government website, US citizens don't need a visa to visit the UK, so some of the BBC readers' comments don't make sense. (I'm looking at you, Dan Wilcox.)
posted by Oriole Adams at 2:15 AM on June 21, 2007


Divabat, hope this isn't posted because of a nasty personal experience!

Britain is the only country I've ever visited (and I've been to 20+, including places like Togo and China) where I was actually worried I wouldn't be admitted for some reason: it's happened three times now. For the record, I'm a native-born US passport holder and I travel a lot, so all these stories relate to visa-waiver program tourist visas-on-arrival.

[rant]

In 2002, the immigration officer at Heathrow demanded to see my wallet. I showed it to her and she asked if I had a printout of my bank statements. I did not, because I was on vacation. She asked me the exact dollar amount in my bank accounts at the time. She asked who I banked with and when I opened my bank account with them. She asked me if I could prove that I was leaving Britain in six months after I showed her an e-ticket receipt for a flight to Spain five days later which she claimed I "printed at home." I eventually told her that no, I didn't have any other evidence of my journey aside from a hostel booking she could look up online, at which point she slammed her stamp onto my passport and almost ripped one of my passport pages out.

In March of 2004, I had a really long transfer (9+ hours) at Heathrow between flights, but the immigration officer said I wasn't allowed to leave the airport and go into London for the day because I was "in transit." I nodded, agreeing that I was, in fact, in transit, but then also told her it was a really long transit and asked if there was a reason why I wasn't able to go through besides this. She then yelled at me to "get out of her line and back to the lounge," at which point I resigned myself to a day of duty-free browsing and overpriced yogurt parfaits. (I mean, I had other UK tourist visas issued at Heathrow on the same page she was looking at.) THAT was a long day.

In December 2005, I arrived at Prestwick airport near Glasgow on a Ryanair flight from Poland; there were only four of us in the non-EU citizens line. I was traveling to see a friend of a friend in Dundee, then heading down to London and across the Channel a week later. I didn't know the friend of a friend's exact address, though I did have a phone number and directions to her (tiny, one-house) lane, so the officer said that he'd "caught me in my lie" and that he didn't believe that I was going to leave when I said I was, despite the bus/ferry e-ticket to France I had, and so our four-person line of three Canadians and me took 25 minutes to process, while over 100 other people from our flight went through the EU citizens line.

[/rant]


Everywhere else I've ever been, from Ghana to Poland to Malaysia, has had kind, even jovial immigration officers happy I'm visiting and happy I'm leaving some dollars behind; in Singapore, the officer made me take some candy and told me where to get some good south Indian food. I try to transfer through Paris now on my way to the rest of Europe, even though their airport is a Gordian knot, because at least I know I can get in.
posted by mdonley at 2:16 AM on June 21, 2007 [1 favorite]


humblepigeon: From personal experience, I can confirm that Germans indeed do not need a visa to enter Britain.
posted by Herr Fahrstuhl at 2:32 AM on June 21, 2007


Why do Germans need a visa to enter the UK?

I would guess that Yasir Iqbal isn't a German citizen, only living and working there, and the fact that he didn't speak German had the immigration officers thinking he might be a terrorist trying to sneak in the back way.

According to the UK government website, US citizens don't need a visa to visit the UK, so some of the BBC readers' comments don't make sense. (I'm looking at you, Dan Wilcox.)

He probably meant that they didn't grant him a visa waiver. Those get decided at the port of entry, so you still get grilled.

Britain is the only country I've ever visited ... where I was actually worried I wouldn't be admitted for some reason: it's happened three times now.

As a non-American, the US border process strikes the most fear into me, but Heathrow can be pretty gruelling at times. Fortunately everything changes once you get that magic red passport. (But getting that is getting harder every day...)
posted by rory at 2:33 AM on June 21, 2007


rory: I feel you - hope I didn't sound all indignant that my Very Exclusive US Passport was being rejected or something, but it was just über-weird that it's all only happened in one country. I hate how US immigration makes everyone - even returning citizens - feel like criminals, especially at the airports. That said, I did have one officer at the Toronto Airport US pre-clearance thingy who basically joyfully bellowed "welllllllllllllcome hooooooooome!" in a tone befitting Aretha Franklin with a huge grin, but maybe she was happy because she was living in Canada at the time.
posted by mdonley at 2:40 AM on June 21, 2007 [1 favorite]


Interesting story mdonley, can't say I'm totally surprised. As a UK citizen they let me back in more often than not when I travel abroad, but travel bureaucrats the world over seem to be officious cnuts. I used to regularly get told that I looked like a girl in my passport photo by immigration officials, and I was nearly refused entry to Sweden on the basis of suspected yoghurt smuggling (at the height of the UK foot and mouth outbreak but, still... they were checking the ingredients of prepackaged, sealed cereal bars in my carry-on baggage, desparetly trying to find some illegal dairy cultures in the ingredient list).

The only country where I actually know first-hand someone that was turned back by immigration is the US. A former school teacher of mine, and close friend of my father actually got to JFK immigration on a 3 week holiday to visit his brother and family, and was refused entry. He is a white middle class gent of Irish descent and mild manners. His visa and associated technicalities were apparently fine, I guess they just didn't like the look of him, or he didn't have enough money or something.
posted by bifter at 2:46 AM on June 21, 2007


The only immigration trouble I've ever had was at JFK, where I was processed and told--ordered--to proceed to baggage reclaim but my girlfriend (born in the Middle East, and with a complicated diplomatic passport) was held back. I spent ten minutes panicking that she was going to be sent back to the UK, or worse.

Turns out the Immigration official was hitting on her.

Your tax dollars at work.
posted by Hogshead at 2:55 AM on June 21, 2007


BBC readers contribute their stories

And an online forum, actively soliciting horror stories and without verification, is a reliable and representative source?
posted by raygirvan at 3:28 AM on June 21, 2007


Flying into Cameroon, the immigration official took me aside to a little booth, then asked me my name, checked it off against a pre-written list she had on a piece of cardboard, then asked me if I had 'a little present' for her. I didn't and happily was let through after playing ignorant as to what she meant.

Entering Denmark by Ferry/Train, someone was arrested literally one metre in front of me in possession of a forged temporary EU passport (back in the mid-90s), the customs guy had mentioned they had a lot of forgeries and turned round to show us the one from the guy he was arresting.

I nearly wasn't allowed to fly out of Berlin after the customs guy thought my quite beaten up passport had enough potential telltale signs that it might be forged.
posted by biffa at 3:28 AM on June 21, 2007


WOW.... *sends thanks heavenwards* I got a lovely visa this year and I'm south asian. I was going for a holiday - my friend in North England and I were going to sample single malts in Scotland for my birthday. Imagine that reason, perfect for rejection according to this article. Just making note that the Brit visa folks are luvverly to balance the comments ;p
posted by infini at 3:40 AM on June 21, 2007


humblepigeon: From personal experience, I can confirm that Germans indeed do not need a visa to enter Britain.

No, and that's because that Germans and Brits are Europeans. You're a German European and I'm a British European. We have the same passport, albeit one issued by our own countries.

Stories like the OP make my blood boil because it enforces anachronistic borders. The whole point of Europe is unification. It's just that nobody seems to take this seriously.
posted by humblepigeon at 4:10 AM on June 21, 2007


"They have a stingent immigration rules, passport control is quite rigorous and it seems as though they are very diligent and proper..."

I'm an American with Indefinite Leave to Remain, and who has been living in London since 1997. I got Indefinite Leave in early 2002 (IIRC).

I'm in and out of the country every month if not every week.

A year or so ago, the immigration agents started asking What have you done to obtain Indefinite Leave?.

I'm always consistent and polite, telling them I was with the same employer for the first four years of my time here, and applied for Indefinite Leave as soon as I was legally permitted. Never a problem, but it is curious they'd started asking.

I do IRIS scanning if I'm passing through Heathrow now, and lately I'm in and out of City Airport so often the officials know me (small airport, almost weekly trips to Amsterdam), so I don't get asked. But I am curious why all of a sudden.

Some of my colleagues here on Indefinite Leave have noticed this as well.
posted by Mutant at 4:10 AM on June 21, 2007


About 10 years ago I was traveling from Kenya to Canada (where I was going to study) and had to overnight in London. I almost wasn't let through because I didn't have my Canadian student visa yet, and they thought that if they let me in to England now, I'd leave the next day, not get in to Canada, and then fly back to England and presumably stay there for ever.

Of course this ignored the fact that I didn't need a visa to just enter Canada, only to study, so I could get in anyway, and that I already had an open dated ticket from Canada to Australia, but none back to England, and that they could always refuse me entry then, if for some reason I did return.
posted by markr at 4:24 AM on June 21, 2007


"These stories are hilarious examples of the dry British wit. Being denied a visa to visit one's sister because it's been too long since one visited one's sister? Brilliant."

This is all part of the build-up to a britcom about immigration workers coming out on the Beeb in September. They'll call it "Immies" or some other inscrutibly diminutive nickname. Ricky Gervais will guest star in the first episode as the Minister of Immigration or whatever the hell they have over there, and later refuse to have anything to do with the show. And it will be hilarious in the way that having the guy in front of and behind you in line (sorry, queueueue) selected for rectal inspections but not you yourself would be. I imagine.
posted by Eideteker at 4:39 AM on June 21, 2007 [5 favorites]


I work for US immigration and I find it intimidating. I have never had a bit of trouble with clearing British customs, but then again, as was said, I have the magical blue passport with the Eagle on it and the funny green tourist money spilling forth from my Bermuda shorts.

I do have to say though that it is far better than any experience I had crossing borders in other parts of the world. No clucking little sargeants with their aviator glasses and heavily armed boy-soldiers on call digging their sweaty, meaty hands through my unmentionables and eyeing my valuables until I break and fork over an nice little wad of that funny green tourist money. Give me an overpaid, overfed, union grunt with one eye on the clock and one on my passport in a place like Detroit any day over that!
posted by Pollomacho at 5:00 AM on June 21, 2007


This is my best border control story.

Back in 1994, my best friend and I travelled by train across Europe, from Paris to Istanbul, on an InterRail ticket. I was 16, my friend 18. I'm still astonished my parents allowed me to do it.

The journey took us through Romania and Bulgaria. At the time, both seemed pretty close to the old Eastern Bloc. They were difficult to arrange visas for, accommodation had to be organised through state tourist agencies, that sort of thing. Bulgaria's state Intourist branch required you to carry a cardboard slip inside your passport; every night you had to get this stamped by the manager of wherever you were staying. Presumably this was to track your movements and ensure you weren't out spying or something.

We trvalled on overnight sleeper trains when we could - a night's accommodation expense saved. The Romanis/Bulgaria border was an unreconstructed Cold War experience. Long waits were involved on either side, during which uniformed men carrying rifles surrounded the train while their respective national authorities checked it. Another band of Men With Guns accompanied the passport inspector.

The passport inspector came to our compartment, took our passports, acknowledged that we were British, and then disappeared with our passports, leaving the assorted men with guns with us. This was rather nerve wracking, and he seemed to be gone a very long time - nothing was done quickly at these crossing-points and time crawls when someone carrying a gun is watching you.

Eventually he came back, and asked if either of us spoke German. My friend did - and disappeared with the inspector. I was left on my own for a seemingly colossal wait, still without passport.

It later turned out that there was a trivial problem with the visas of two Irish girls who were on the same train. We had never seen them. They had been dragged off the train to explain the problem, but spoke only English, and no one at the border had enough English to communicate effectively. They had started to panic, and were now in a right old state. None of the border guards spoke English - but some did speak some German. There were no Germans on the train - only us. So my friend had been translating their shaky German into English for the girls, and translating the replies back. The situation was thus resolved. Meanwhile, I was stll in the railway carriage keeping company with a Romanian conscript not much older than me.

Amazing experience. Romania and Bulgaria joined the EU this year - I wonder how long the border checks take now.
posted by WPW at 5:01 AM on June 21, 2007 [1 favorite]


rory: I feel you - hope I didn't sound all indignant that my Very Exclusive US Passport was being rejected or something

Not at all, mdonley... and not all of the US officials I've encountered have been unwelcoming (although some have). It's the nervous anticipation more than anything - I'd hate to be barred from visiting the States over a misunderstanding at the border.
posted by rory at 5:18 AM on June 21, 2007


I was on a student visa in the UK for two years - the immigration control people were always very strict but I never had any difficulties. One guy was actually very nice and extended my visa until the October after I graduated, so I could "enjoy some time off."

In other European countries I've been to, usually the immigration officer just grunted at me, stamped my passport and waved me on. In the UK and the US it always took at least 10 minutes because they ask all sorts of questions. The US especially bothers me because I have a US passport and I don't think it's any of their business to know where I've been and what I've been doing there. Whenever I'd be waiting in line at Heathrow I'd enviously watch the EU passport holders just show their passport and waltz through without any questions at all.

A friend of mine has a green card and an EU passport, and she gets hassled at US borders all the time. They always ask her when she's going to become a US citizen and she honestly answers that she doesn't know. This tends to not be a very satisfactory answer.
posted by sutel at 5:31 AM on June 21, 2007


Thanks for your stories, mdonley.

My favorite border-crossing story:

When traipsing across SE Asia many moons ago, my friend and I decided to try and get into Cambodia through Thailand. The border opened and closed depending on the activities of the various dying remnants of the leftover Khmer armies in the region (kidnapping tourists, shooting people, staging illegal checkpoints--aka, 'lunch money' checkpoints).

Anyway, we had learned in Bangkok that the border was supposed to be open, so we high-tailed it to Poipet. We had heard that they might be running a "vaccination" con at the border, so my friend got all his paperwork beforehand, but I thought I could bluff it since it wasn't really required, anyway. The game was, you either had your vaccination papers, or you paid $25 (USD) and they gave you a magic pill that apparently does the same thing as all our Western medicine would have done for you.

Sure enough, the border guard asks me for my vaccination papers, I tell him I don't have any, he asks for money, I tell him that's not necessary, either. He gets his superior, I lean over and quietly tell him I don't want to make a big deal of it, but I won't be paying the 'tax' is all. So instead of having some raving, yelling, crazy American on his hands complaining about his rights and having to get hauled off (which would not only make him lose serious face, it would also be more work than he planned on doing that day--ie: none), he can buy me off and I keep my mouth shut.

He looks at my form, looks at the section where I marked "No vaccination", took a pencil and erased it and marked the other box.

Wow! I'm healthy and all it took was checking another box! Will the wonders of Eastern science never cease!

posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:31 AM on June 21, 2007


My visa was refused on ground that there was nothing special in England that we dont have it in Uganda.

LOL.
posted by delmoi at 5:46 AM on June 21, 2007


Paris has to have the easiest border checks ever. Flying into CDG from the US, there are two doorways: "declaring" and "nothing to declare." Walk through the appropriate one, a bored-looking guard looks at your passport and waves you on... and there you are.

Not even a stamp.
posted by kaseijin at 5:54 AM on June 21, 2007


mdonley: ha, no! Actually I've been really lucky with visas - which is remarkable considering I have a Bangladeshi passport and the damn thing requires visas for 90% of the planet.

I used to be able to go to Singapore quite easily growing up (I lived across the border in Malaysia) but then one day Singapore decided Bangladeshi nationals needed a visa, and they didn't make the process easy. You couldn't get a visa just for sightseeing, no. You needed a "real" reason. My dad could get one due to medical treatment he's seeking, but just wanting a visa so you could go visit friends or whatever was more of a hassle.

The US visa was surprisingly easy. I did get quizzed about my uni studies and why I wanted to do my course, but nothing much besides. The LA immigration are a bit surly but I've never been interrogated or asked. Canada's friendly; they even managed to give me a visa within one week (I won a competition that involved a flight there) when it would normally involve about a month's notice and an interview in Singapore since the Malaysian consulate didn't do visas. Ironically, soon after my trip, Canada decides Malaysians need visas too!

Japan was easy to get; the problem is they give you the visa on assumption that you were leaving the next day. I applied a month in advance as I was going on a study abroad trip and Japan would be my second stop (after the US). They wouldn't let me get the visa early for the correct timeframe, so we had to time it so that I could land in Japan within the allocated 3 months, then get an entry visa for another 3 months.

I find Malaysian immigration rather hit-and-miss. I actually got stopped in Sabah (in Borneo) because apparently permanent residents need passports to travel interstate! I had only brought my IC. Lucky for me, I was in a group, and the immigration folks just gave me a slip that I had to hold on to.

Bangladesh's immigration is TERRIBLE. They couldn't fathom the idea of permanent residency and kept asking if my IC had an expiry date (uh, till I die?). My uncle had to intervene on my behalf so that I could fly home.

Despite my relative lack of troubles at immigration (never been turned away or anything), I still feel visas are useless and a pain. They cost so much money, take ages to process (stupid Australian pre-visa rules!), and don't really mean much.
posted by divabat at 6:09 AM on June 21, 2007


Fsck this airport nonsense, the best way to travel is by ferry. I did this with a former colleague of mine from the US several times over the last few years.

Anything to declare in the boot of the car? No? Fine, off you go.

And that, basically, is it. They may by random chance take a look but if your luggage doesn't look like it has people stowed in it they genuinely appear not to give a toss what you're up to or whatever else you might have inadvertently forgotten to dispose of before leaving Amsterdam.

Bit hard getteing here from the US like that though, I'll give you that.
posted by vbfg at 6:11 AM on June 21, 2007


Like divabat, my husband is Bangladeshi and we were quite surprised that he got a ten-year multiple-entry tourist visa for the UK with no problems or questions at all (although we were living in the US at the time). It's visas to my country, Ireland, that are the headache for him.
He has received really nasty, aggressive empty your pockets, show us everything in your wallet, now we're going to ask probing questions about each item treatment at the US border with Canada though; I have also been asked by US border people why on earth I would marry a Bangladeshi guy. It is so difficult to keep your boiling blood under control on such occasions.

They always ask her when she's going to become a US citizen and she honestly answers that she doesn't know. This tends to not be a very satisfactory answer

Yeah, conversely we found that stating enthusuastically that we couldn't wait to become American citizens (a complete lie) to get a great reaction.
posted by jamesonandwater at 6:26 AM on June 21, 2007


According to the UK government website, US citizens don't need a visa to visit the UK, so some of the BBC readers' comments don't make sense. (I'm looking at you, Dan Wilcox.)

U.S. citizens don't need a visa to visit Canada, either, but I know a U.S. citizen who was turned back at the border several days ago because he didn't have enough money on him.

I hate how US immigration makes everyone - even returning citizens - feel like criminals, especially at the airports.

Not always. I took Amtrak from Canada into the U.S. about a week and a half ago, and the border officer asked me where I lived and how long I'd been in Canada, looked at my passport, and handed it back to me. No probing questions, but it pales in comparison to the first time I took the train down, where they asked everyone if they had contacts in Montréal, asked me leading questions that kind of implied I was a drug mule, and then brought drug dogs to sniff all the luggage on the train. (They must have had some sort of tip; I've never seen such specific lines of investigation before or since.)

I think the first time I arrived in Germany, they were even less intrusive. My "interview" consisted of the border guard looking at me, at my passport, at me again, stamping it, and handing it back to me. No words were exchanged.
posted by oaf at 6:40 AM on June 21, 2007


If they wanted to combat visa-overstayers they would be applying their energies to the Australians and Newzealanders who comprise the bulk of overstayers.
posted by asok at 6:42 AM on June 21, 2007


jamesonandwater: Yeah, conversely we found that stating enthusuastically that we couldn't wait to become American citizens (a complete lie) to get a great reaction.

I will pass that along! She is going to Poland in a few weeks.
posted by sutel at 6:53 AM on June 21, 2007


Once you get into the country, it is obvious that there is no border control and they pretty much let anyone in. Which is actually pretty cool.
posted by three blind mice at 1:45 AM on June 21


That's about the size of it. This is just muscle-flexing by petty bureaucrats, perhaps intended to portray a 'look how tough we are on immigration' spin in the media. In reality, the system has been so lax for so long that no-one has the faintest idea how many illegal immigrants are living and working in Britain. On top of which are the hundreds of thousands of legal migrants arriving each year (especially from Eastern Europe).

Unsurprisingly, the demographic mix of many UK towns and cities has changed massively over a very short period of time. My own unremarkable medium-sized town in South East England has become incredibly cosmopolitan. 10 years ago the population was virtually all English. Now there must be dozens of countries represented in my street alone. My neighbours converse in languages that I can't even identify, let alone understand. I bloody love it. I have nothing but admiration for anyone who has the gumption to leave behind everything they know in search of a better life (although I can't believe that they're going to find it in this shite-hole).

Of course, the cynic in me suspects that this mass, barely-controlled immigration was intentional, rather than being the result of the series of highly-publicised governmental gaffes. Wages are pushed down, and the rampant house price inflation which is the only thing underpinning the UK economy keeps on spiralling (all of the newcomers in my area live in rented accommodation owned by the enormous new class of buy-to-let landlords, in houses that a decade ago were owner-occupied by locals). There is a massive strain on local schools, hospitals and transport networks as, for some reason, the obvious population increase doesn't bring commensurate government funding.

Sadly, the likes of the far-right BNP have made great capital from the issue.
posted by boosh at 7:22 AM on June 21, 2007 [2 favorites]


My UK customs story is not as awesome as some of these, but just as stupid. During winter break a couple of years ago a friend and I went to go visit another friend of ours in London. We emailed with the guy for a few weeks before and he told us how to get to his house using the Underground from the airport. So we get to the front of the immigration line and the official asks me, "why didn't you fill out the location?". Well, in fact I had filled that out, writing "London" in the appropriate space. However, that was not good enough for the official. She claimed that, "writing London in the 'location of stay' portion of the form is equivalent to writing 'California' if you're staying in the US."

Geographical differences aside, the official made us spend 20 minutes finding someone with a map of the underground (asking everyone on line) and tracing out the route that our friend had given us to a neighborhood and then writing down that neighborhood in the "location of stay area".

How writing where we going to stay in the area of the form changed anything changed anything, I don't know. But damn, I will know the neighborhood where I'm staying next time I go to England.
posted by jourman2 at 7:32 AM on June 21, 2007


I'm putting this in small print so it doesn't seem like I'm hogging the thread. :)

Crossing from Ghana to Togo in 2003 was interesting; at the time, you couldn't fly from Ghana to Senegal, so I had to go via Lomé, which is right on the border with Ghana and about three hours from Accra. I applied for and received the visa without incident the week before my trip (though they were curious why an American 20-year-old really wanted to go to Togo in the first place), but on arriving at the border town of Aflao, I headed toward the various border posts*. I walked up to the leaving-Ghana-stamp post, hopped a little fence thing that looked like it was made for some equestrian event, and entered Togo without paying a bribe because this poor Swiss family looked as if they'd been hoodwinked into paying for something they didn't need to, so I was able to get a stamp from a non-head-honcho who just wanted to keep the line moving. I just kept walking down the street into the center of Lomé - very weird. It felt a little like Tijuana - a totally different society/culture as soon as you step over a line. I found a random Mexican restaurant that night, ended up staying at what I now realize must have been a brothel for all the women and kids running around (but my $4 room had A/C!), and headed to the airport the next day.

Even though I was only there for a day, the visa took up an entire page of my passport.

*not my photos

posted by mdonley at 7:38 AM on June 21, 2007


Not to derail, but wasn't the US at one point going to require visitors visas just to change planes at the airport?
posted by Chuckles McLaughy du Haha, the depressed clown at 7:57 AM on June 21, 2007


@boosh: I was trying to explain to some Australian colleagues that there are anywhere between, say, 7 and 20 million illegal immigrants in the US, and that no one ever really had a chance in hell of finding out, and that the problem would never go away because Americans just aren't working in certain sectors anymore. They were astounded by the number - perhaps living on an island does that to people. (I had asked them to guess how many there were after telling them that the US had about 300 million people, and they guessed "oh, probably a lot, maybe 500,000 or even up to a million.") I mean, there are only 20 million people in all of Australia, so I could see why this blew them away, especially since recent Aussie governments have been rather, shall we say, reticent in admitting various groups who've arrived, um, unannounced.

It's nice to know that you're enjoying your newly cosmopolitan neighborhood; try to get to know the newcomers and maybe they'll invite you over for dinner!
posted by mdonley at 7:58 AM on June 21, 2007


@chuckles: There's no international-to-international transiting in US airports (aka "Transit Without Visa") and hasn't been since 2003; on, say, an Air New Zealand flight from London to Auckland via Los Angeles, everyone on the plane, even if they are just passing through to New Zealand, has to go through US customs and immigration and possess a valid visa to do so. (This is, I imagine, why Air New Zealand now also flies London-Hong Kong-Auckland.)
posted by mdonley at 8:06 AM on June 21, 2007


divabat, What a bloody outrage! Are these immigration folks *nuts*? wtf?

So good, in a nightmare kind of a way, to read visa and immigration stories. Thanks for your post, grrrr.

Britain, Germany, Spain and France, having colonised huge chunks of the planet, vampired them of their resources and then dumped them in political and financial ashes, then, a couple of decades later, the same colonial imperialists opened the floodgates to 'guest-workers', who built and paved their roads and did grunt work to send money back to Turkey, Yugoslavia, India, Pakistan, India.

Deprived of the opportunity to continuously steal the natural resources of the countries they colonised, they became dependent on the tourist biz, which means letting other people in for reasons other than paving roads and washing their dishes. I guess this crazy visa-abuse is some passive-aggressive sadism.

So what is this bizarre visa humiliation bs going on now? Why isn't the conniving and hidden agenda outed?

Having spent 25 years living in 32 countries, I have had my own share of visa nightmares. Getting back into Britain after visiting Europe or the USA, while I was a student in London for 4 years, was always a MAJOR headache and gut-twistingly unpredictable, all the way back to the early 70's. Once I was almost denied a visa because I didn't attend school (a "crammer" tutorial school) enough hours per week and had to get the headmistress to lie, in writing, on my behalf.

In 1970, trying to get on the ferry from Gibralter to Tangiers, my brother, age 15, had to cut his shoulder-length hair before being allowed into Morocco. Henry Miller and Jack Kerouac paperbacks were confiscated from our backpacks.

From 1975 to 1985, I pretzelled myself to live in India continuously for a decade. The annual trek to the The Foreigner's Registration Office required weeks of preparation, a special memsahib outfit, so I didn't look like the hippie I was (living in a plumbingless and electricityless log cabin on the Tibetan border); moving to different parts of the country so I didn't appear to be connected with the Tibetans, who were deemed politically suspicious by the Indian government; prayers of all kinds; going to Tibetan lamas for a 'mo' (prediction of the best place to go to get the visa extended), lol. I don't know a single other American who pulled off staying in India a decade legally without leaving.

It was only when I tried to become an Indian citizen in 1985, which I was eligible for because I'd lived there over five years without leaving, was my visa denied.

The Canadian border was very difficult with me when I visited Vancouver for a weekend in the early 90's, because I had 50 pewter pin samples in my small backpack, to show stores there and no name of a hotel to stay in. Just thought I'd wing it for the weekend. I got some huge piece of paper attached to my passport, not allowing me employment. When I returned to the USA from Canada, I heard an immigration official saying if she smelled any traveler wearing patchouli, it was assumed they were carrying drugs and pulled over.

Hoping to appear benign, banal, harmless, normal, invisible, non-threatening, docile, compliant, pleasant, non-argumentative, sheep-like, transparently good...has been the look and demeanor I've tried to go for when crossing borders.

By the way, I particularly enjoyed learning a little about you in your comment and reading all the juicy anecdotes in this thread.
posted by nickyskye at 8:18 AM on June 21, 2007 [4 favorites]


In other news: Ignatius J Reilly was recently appointed Minister of Transportation.
posted by shmegegge at 8:21 AM on June 21, 2007


I had no idea UK border control could be so idiotic. I've never had trouble with them, but I'm a white Canadian registered in an American university, and I always had a really good reason to be here (research). I've never had trouble personally at the American border, but again, my race and citizenship all make things easier for me - I've watched them harass non-Canadians and black Canadians (especially young men). At the Canadian/American border, they don't even ask people in cars for full ID, but they make everyone on the Greyhound get off and open their luggage. So if you want to smuggle drugs into the US, just do so in a car - they would never notice. They have an irrational belief that no drug-smugglers can drive.

I think there needs to be an international body to appeal visa denials to -- and if the reason is stupid, the offending office has to not only return your visa fee, but also any money you've lost because of it (hotel bookings or business, etc). That will teach them to have some responsibility - and frankly, it's mostly a racist racket. If you are white and from a first world country, you don't get a quarter of the trouble everyone else gets.

about the BBC comments - I gathered the American denied a visa was looking to emmigrate, not just to visit. He was independently wealthy and retiring, but denied a visa because he was "unemployed", as he was only 62 (not 65). Again, idiotic, and he should have had his fees returned.
posted by jb at 8:38 AM on June 21, 2007


My neighbours converse in languages that I can't even identify, let alone understand. I bloody love it.

Good on you! I find what you said an inspiration. It's a complete tonic from what most people normally say, and I'm sure it's what they would say if they could get over their knee-jerk reaction to "foreigners". Not foreigners. Humans. Sometimes with far more life experience and bravery than any of us can imagine.
posted by humblepigeon at 8:40 AM on June 21, 2007


The one time I flew into the UK, in '97, I got off the plane and…that was it. No border control, no customs, no nothing. It was surprising.

Transferring through CDG on my way to Spain last year, I was detained for about 30 minutes, because my ratty old passport looked like it might have been tampered with (they let me through when they noticed my wife, with her shiny new passport, waiting for me, and decided my story checked out). Coming back into the USA from that trip, the immigration officer barely looked at my passport, but projected an attitude of both boredom and menace that made me feel as if I would be whisked away to Gitmo any minute now.

I've still got that ratty passport, and a story I heard on NPR yesterday about huge backlogs on processing passport applications makes me worried that I won't get a new one issued anytime soon.
posted by adamrice at 8:58 AM on June 21, 2007


Canadian immigration authorities once detained my sister and I for a couple hours because we hadn't been in the country for quite some time.

Seriously: "we notice you haven't been in Canada for a number of years, why not?"

"Um, we don't live here"

"Why not?"

...and so on. I am absolutely serious. Couldn't believe it. Still can't believe it, actually.
posted by aramaic at 9:44 AM on June 21, 2007


I have the magical blue passport with the Eagle on it and the funny green tourist money spilling forth from my Bermuda shorts.

Well, that passport isn't what it was -- and neither is the money. It's like someone way upthread said: Brits could give a fuck about the bigger picture. They know working at Sainsbury's gives them buttons and makes Lord Sainsbury very, very fucking rich so why should they smile at the kids when they could be kicking them in the spleen? Same with dollars. They might help the exchequer, but we can't spend them so yucks.

My former US girlfriend used to have really horrible times coming to visit me, particularly at Heathrow. More than once she was in tears after having to prove we were an item.
posted by bonaldi at 9:51 AM on June 21, 2007


Not to derail, but wasn't the US at one point going to require visitors visas just to change planes at the airport?

@chuckles: There's no international-to-international transiting in US airports (aka "Transit Without Visa") and hasn't been since 2003; on, say, an Air New Zealand flight from London to Auckland via Los Angeles, everyone on the plane, even if they are just passing through to New Zealand, has to go through US customs and immigration and possess a valid visa to do so. (This is, I imagine, why Air New Zealand now also flies London-Hong Kong-Auckland.)

Not quite. First of all there is the C visa, the "transit visa" good for periods up to 48 hours. Next, New Zeland and the UK are "visa-waiver" nations meaning that Kiwi and Brits are able to apply for entry as a visitor at a port of entry.

Last, for those that aren't going to have a long lay-over needing a C and who aren't visa-waiver or visa-exempt there was a little thing that used to be called Transit Without Visa or TWOV and the International-to-International transit or ITI programs. These were suspended in 2003 for security reasons.
posted by Pollomacho at 10:16 AM on June 21, 2007


I once had a terrible time getting across the border into Canada from Maine.

Me and one of my buddies – both in grad school for painting – were up at Schowhegan and wanted to day-trip up to Quebec City.

OMG - we must have looked the part, because we were riding in a 4-door Toyota Celica with a deteriorated gun-metal finish, with - to my dismay – an old set of plates in the trunk. We aeparated and questioned individually. No laws were being broken and if there were ever any intents, they never crossed our minds.

The experience was so traumatic I had to include it in screenplay I wrote.
posted by vhsiv at 10:43 AM on June 21, 2007


Not always. I took Amtrak from Canada into the U.S. about a week and a half ago, and the border officer asked me where I lived and how long I'd been in Canada, looked at my passport, and handed it back to me. No probing questions, but it pales in comparison to the first time I took the train down, where they asked everyone if they had contacts in Montréal, asked me leading questions that kind of implied I was a drug mule, and then brought drug dogs to sniff all the luggage on the train. (They must have had some sort of tip; I've never seen such specific lines of investigation before or since.)


10 years ago I went to Montreal by bus with a friend and several military style hard-cases of strange electronics (art) without even a drivers license (i didn't have one). we got in but they had to talk to us awhile...
posted by geos at 10:57 AM on June 21, 2007


mdonley writes "There's no international-to-international transiting in US airports (aka 'Transit Without Visa') and hasn't been since 2003"

And they will feel free to deport you to Syria despite your travelling on a Canadian passport.
posted by Mitheral at 11:06 AM on June 21, 2007


The one time I flew into the UK, in '97, I got off the plane and…that was it. No border control, no customs, no nothing. It was surprising.

I've entered the UK three times this way in recent years. They didn't even have someone in the booth to profile the suspicious characters or anything. And then sometimes they are fully staffed and you have to jump through all the hoops. Bizarre. In France they at least have someone in the booth who smiles and waves you past.

The first time I entered the UK, as a teenager, they didn't have any immigration people there, and I wandered around for the longest time looking for someone to let me into the country -- finally I gave up and just followed all the other travelers out into the parking lot. I was sure that someone was going to chase after me and arrest me for failing to correctly enter the country.
posted by Forktine at 11:37 AM on June 21, 2007


Once, many years ago, I was coming to the US to visit my girlfriend. She lived in rural South Jersey and her house didn't have a number, only a "rural delivery" and box number ("Box 237-A, RD#3, Cologne, NJ") and that was what I filled in on the visa waiver form. The INS official looked at my papers and said "what's the address where you're staying?" I told her I'd already put the address on the paperwork. She said "What's the house number?" and I said "there isn't one". She gave me a kind of old-fashioned look and insisted there had to be a house number. After a couple of go-rounds, I eventually shrugged and said "How about 12345 Cologne Avenue?". She said "Is that the number?" I said "Sure", she amended the form, stamped my passport and wished my a good day.

Moral: Never ask a droid to exceed their programming; it only wastes your time, and annoys the droid.
posted by kcds at 11:41 AM on June 21, 2007 [3 favorites]


I've crossed tons of central European borders (there is nothing cuter than a Slovak border guard semi-hitting on you and treating you like the Queen of All Things just because you speak some lousy Czech), but for absurd and unknown reasons, I always get hassled going into Canada from the US!

One time, I was heading up for my friend's book release party. I had a good amount of yarn in my bag and not too many clothes (such is the packing of a Dedicated Knitter) and they pulled me off the bus to accuse me of attempting to emigrate. Then, the 18-yr-old border guard saving Vancouver from Americans crossing in cars hassled me for wanting to take photos of spinning. ("Huh?" "You know, making yarn out of wool?" "They DO that in Canada?")... oh, that's just a few instances.

In Germany? Anywhere else in Europe? No problem. But in my native country and its border-neighbor, I'm apparently on some kind of Yarn Terrorist watchlist.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 12:44 PM on June 21, 2007


The scene: Bunch of American birders from San Francisco, in a van crossing from Washington state into BC. It's January; it's cold; it's sort of sleeting and sort of snowing

Border guard: How long will you be in Canada?
Our guide & driver: Just for the day.
Guard: The purpose of your visit?
Backseat birder: We're here to look for snowy owls!
Guard: You came all the way from San Francisco to see a bird??!
Chorus of voices from van: YES!

The guard looked dubious, but he let us in.

We did see a snowy owl. One. It was several hundred yards away, and very much looked like a lump of snow with eyes. There had been dozens the year before, but we'd missed that trip, dammit.
posted by rtha at 1:29 PM on June 21, 2007 [1 favorite]


@Pollomacho: You're right that NZers and Brits don't need to apply for visas in advance if transiting the US, but the Visa Waiver Program is only as good as the US's information on the passenger; as Mitheral states above, one can easily be denied entry or worse for essentially no reason. I mean, the US denied entry to Cat Stevens - who is now Yusuf Islam - while his flight was en route to the US. The Department of Homeland Security has even been trying to lobby the UK to allow them to require visas to British passport holders of Pakistani origins, but not those of other ethnicities.

The Visa Waiver Program is great if you aren't suspected of anything, but you'd have to get a visa, I imagine, if you're on some watch list, and there's no way you'd know about that until you got to the States anyway, since Visa Waiver Program passport holders don't need to ask for permission from the US before they begin their journey.
posted by mdonley at 2:50 PM on June 21, 2007


What's phenomenal to me is that certain people see these lines (or "borders") all over the place, while I have never actually seen one other than drawn on a map. I'm pretty well convinced they don't exist.
posted by Eideteker at 5:25 PM on June 21, 2007


(Unfortunately, the people who disagree usually have bigger guns)
posted by Eideteker at 5:26 PM on June 21, 2007


Hm. I've never had these sorts of troubles. All I can claim is that when I have visited my cousin in Amsterdam, as I go through customs, for some reason the customs agent always stops me to ask me why I'm coming to the Netherlands and whether I am bringing anything into the country. Every time.

Then there was the time when I was visiting the Republic of Macedonia (no visa required for Americans), and on the way back I ran into a couple of young Canadians getting off the train back to Greece. It turned out they were on their way to Hungary from Greece by train. In the morning at the border in the Republic of Macedonia, they were detained for not having a visa, weren't allowed to be issued one at the border, and were detained all day until the next train back to Greece came, which wasn't until late that evening. They were Canadian, one of the world's most harmless nationals. And why did the Republic of Macedonia think that their country was so at risk of maurauding Canadians that they needed a special visa, when Bulgaria and Romania was just willing to stamp their passports?
posted by deanc at 6:21 PM on June 21, 2007


All I can claim is that when I have visited my cousin in Amsterdam, as I go through customs, for some reason the customs agent always stops me to ask me why I'm coming to the Netherlands and whether I am bringing anything into the country.

Amsterdam (Schiphol) airport has a big (and highly publicised) cocaine smuggling problem, in particular in flights from the Dutch Antilles. That's perhaps the reason.
posted by Skeptic at 6:32 PM on June 22, 2007


« Older John Fahey - 1969, Part 1 John Fahey - 1969, Part...  |  Norilsk is a big city in north... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments