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A deportation at the UK border (medium.com)
449 points by analyst74 on June 10, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 319 comments

Enough has been said about bad treatment by border guards about every country on earth so don't need to repeat it but I had the following exchange with a Canadian visa officer.

Visa Officer:Your Name? How can I help you Me: Dr XYZ. I would like to apply for a visitor visa to Canada Visa Officer: Why would you like to go to Canada Me: I have been invited to speak at a conference Visa Officer: Hmm I see. Me: Is there a problem? Visa Officer: You see, you are not allowed to do public speaking on a visitor visa. You will have to apply a visa for public speaking which takes longer and requires additional formalities and checks. Me: Oh, I see. I am surprised that is the case, I go around the world to conferences and it seems unusual in Canada. Visa Officer: Can I ask you a question Me: Sure Visa Officer (with a smile): Would you say that your main purpose of applying the visa is to attend the conference and you will be sharing your professional and not political views. Me: Yes. Absolutely! Visa Officer: You should then get a visitor visa which will be ready tomorrow after 4. Remember, when asked say that you are attending the conference. Enjoy Canada

As a rule answers have to be as general as possible. The more specific information you give them voluntarily, the more they can find something to latch on and make your life miserable.

Leave it up to them to ask more details. I wasn't a speaker at my last conference, but I could have been. But my conversation at the border was something like: "Why are you visiting Canada?" / "To go to a conference" / "Where is the conference?" / "Downtown" / "How long will you stay?" / "3 days" / "Ok, welcome to Canada".

Good answers. If you're ever going to an "unconference", don't say that!

When US CBP asked if I was "presenting, or attending", I did NOT take the opportunity to explain that everyone was expected to participate and present :)

The only problem is that while this is fantastic advice, it just means that the people who are going to be abused in the systems are the ones who haven't gotten the message, or otherwise struggle to implement it.

It's sort of a rule of bureaucracy that those who take an effort to be as accurate as possible will hit invisible edges and be scrutinized - those who don't will just sail smoothly or simply fall through the net.

I know that b/c my lifestyle is sometimes "unusual" while at the same time I have a strong inherent tendency to be very correct and "overly" honest. :D

I had exactly this last week in Vancouver, very swift given how long the queue was (British citizen if that helps).

"Why are you visiting Canada?"

"I"m here for a conference"

"What's the conference about?"

"Computer vision, you know, programming research"

"How long are you staying?"

"A week"


There was a point on the outbound journey where they were checking everyone's passports by the scanner (i.e. you'd go through and everyone would set the alarm off, but it seemed to be a passport check rather than anything else), as soon as they saw it was British they lost interest.

> British citizen if that helps

It does, the lineups at Toronto's Pearson Int'l airport are longer for Canadians in my experience.

> As a rule answers have to be as general as possible. The more specific information you give them voluntarily, the more they can find something to latch on and make your life miserable.

This is very good advice, anyone prepping for depositions would have heard it already but it works very well for border personnel too.

"Why are you visiting Canada?"

"On vacation."


About sixteen years ago (I remember, because it was back before 9/11, when you could go to Canada without a passport) I got bored one weekend and drove up to Vancouver by myself. I got to the border, and answered the standard questions like "who do you know here" and "is this your car". Then the border agent asked me the purpose of my visit, and I said "uhhhh, tourism, ha ha". They let me in about an hour later after the car search and police background check came up clean. I guess the moral of the story is come prepared and try to be convincing, because they can screw you over on a whim.

On the other hand, I've gotten across with no delay at all by saying "I'm picking up a friend at the Vancouver airport" and "I'm going to go buy this drill press off of Craigslist -- see this printout?" Neither of those is illegal, and in neither case can they expect you to have hotel reservations or know any Canadians, etc.

> I guess the moral of the story is come prepared and try to be convincing, because they can screw you over on a whim.

One of my favourite parts about driving to the border is going through scenarios with my passengers, and how to answer each question.

I know someone (US citizen) who did this exact thing for a work trip to Vancouver and was denied because he got himself into a trap trying to explain what he would be doing.

Honesty might get you in trouble, but thats still probably a better place to be than trying to lie your way out

As a rule answers have to be as general as possible.

So, sort of the same strategy used for patent claims?

This is quite clear - in pretty much all first world countries, coming in to do some task and get paid for it is a huge red flag, it's "an immigrant asking for permit to work" for which the official process is slow and designed to deny most cases, and the main job of immigration officers essentially is trying to catch people who do the same on the standard "just come visit us" tourist visa.

The thing is, these laws are not meant to apply to "you", and the enforcement officers understand that - these laws are designed for people from lower-income countries seeking prolonged employment, i.e., economic migration; not first-world travelers that happen to earn some money while on the trip - the immigration officers entire reason of existence is to detect and prevent the former, while the latter doesn't matter, so they understand all the factors but since it's hard to draw an exact line, these laws do apply to e.g. conference speakers as well, and if you explicitly disclose to them that yes, you intend to do some paid job during your trip, then they pretty much have to deport you, and it's much harder for them to turn a blind eye and follow just the intent/goal of that law.

I don't like the laws that stops people from moving around, but if it's written in law, it's not meant to be creatively interpreted like it does not apply to you if you are from a first world country.

Interesting perspective.

I wonder if the immigration officers described here actually thought they were being fair, because they were applying the law as written to a white American, even though the law was not written to keep out white Americans.

Which is to say, we can be horrified by the attitudes of the officers, but it's the law that needs to be changed, not their attitudes.

Canadian border guards are the best.

I remember once we were traveling by road to Waterloo, to meet some buddies. We picked up those 1.5L bottles of booze, one each. That's 6L of booze in the car. At the Buffalo border, the dialog went like this:

Guard: where are you going?

We: Niagara Falls, just for the evening (we were afraid that they might now allow us in if we admitted to partying in Waterloo)

Guard: are you bringing in anything?

We: This booze.

Guard: As a gift for someone?

We: No, just for ourselves.

Guard: (incredulously) You'll drink that by yourselves?

We: Yes.

Guard: (rolls eyes) OK, come on in.

Now that we're telling stories:

I was flying home from England to Sweden and going through the inspection before departure. The guy checking me could tell that I was upset about it all, having to remove my belt and maybe even my shoes. When we were done, he had the greatest line: "Thank you for your cooperation, from Mr. Obama."

You know, I flew from Barcelona to Stockholm and I have to say, not having anything to do with US/UK borders was a phenomenally pleasant experience.

But that's like a domestic flight, because both are part of the Schengen Agreement?

The point is that both the United States and the United Kingdom are using their borders as processing centers. They are using their travel hubs as surveillance machines. That's what makes travelling through them suck. My personal theory is that the belt and shoes come off not because it actually stops people from bringing bombs onto airplanes, but because it gives the security apparatus extra processing time while the targets are still on-site.

I'm surprised when people are working (ie presenting at a conference) they think a non-working visa is OK.

We all play the game, but to not know the game is surprising. Hack the system, sure. But know you are hacking at least.

(I'm assuming OPs presentation was work related)

On the other hand, most of my worst experiences with border agents were in Canadian airports. YMMV.

Are you Canadian? I think they bother the Canadians more.

Nope. US citizen, but used to work for a company that had offices in Canada, and over a couple-year period also went to three tech-related conferences held in Canada, so I got a pretty significant dose of CBSA's loving embrace.

I am not happy about the continued existence of what are essentially rights-free zones at border crossings. Unfortunately, with the current political climate in the UK, I'm not sure the majority of my fellow countrymen would agree. And I'm certain Theresa May doesn't care.

It's easy for politicians to ignore these problems, as they will almost never affect their own citizens. A similar situation exists with the NSA abusing the privacy of foreigners - after all, they're not US citizens, so why should they care? At least the Border Force appeared to be more-or-less following the rules (twisted as they might be) in this particular instance.

Indeed. See also the ongoing sagas of people being deported from Scotland (Brain family, Zielsdorf family). The policy is brutal because people demand that "something must be done" about "immigrants". The system is made ever tighter, but it does nothing to dampen the complaints, because the people who the rightwing public actually want deported are either EU residents or second-generation nonwhite Muslim "immigrants". Neither of which are going anywhere soon.

I agree, but I have to say this: "second-generation" cannot be "immigrants", I hate this pseudo-definition with all its jus sanguinis connotations. Second-generation means you were born and bred in whichever country your parents happened to live in. You are from that country, period. You may or may not have a passport (because jus sanguinis is a terrible, terrible weed growing on law systems the world over), but you are not an immigrant.

I am an immigrant; my children, who were born in UK, are not. They might be second-generation this or that (lasagne lovers from Cheshire? Northern-England pizza connoisseurs?) but they cannot be immigrants because they. did. not. immigrate. anywhere. Logic and reason are very clear on the matter.

I think you just wanted to say "second generation nonwhite Muslims", which is correct as well as much clearer on the matter and nature of the hatred.

Sorry, that was part of the point I was trying to make but while using the language of the anti-immigrant campaigners. I've stuck it in scare quotes now. As you say, someone who was born in the country cannot sensibly be called an immigrant.

Like some anti-immigrant campaigner who is himself a "second-generation immigrant"?

I vote close to extreme right in EU. The only people I want deported are illegal immigrants. I also want talent/work-based immigration and fewer visas for familial regroupement (as in, get one member in EU, get all your relatives in EU).

I have been a migrant in Australia. I know what that is. I expect my country to require the same respect from people we welcome.

Mainstream parties do absolutely nothing in this direction.

I do not mind about nationals who have been French for more than one generation, who belong here, provided they don't burn the French flag like they do so often. Burning the flag is only the emerged part of the iceberg for the little respect some have for their host country - They feel like they belong to the Arabic cause more than they belong to country who provides the free schools they've been to). Burning the French flag should be cause for prison or visa cancellation, but y'know, "we need diversity"...

Even our French Minister of Justice refuses to sing the Marseillaise. I'm really fed up with the floppiness of mainstream parties.

The hilarity, as pointed out by Lord Hesseltine on Any Questions this week, is that around half the immigrants to the UK come from outside the EU (it's a 50/50 split with 180k each). The EU has no control over them, and even if we totally blocked EU migration the government would still be 600% over its target.

We don't seem to stop and think that if everyone is freely abusing everyone else, that's not an ideal situation. While it's impossible to eliminate a lot of these systemic ills, I feel like the general response is sort of, "We can't fix it all at once, perfectly, so lets pretend that it doesn't exist."

Wait what, what rights did she not have?

She found out later she had a right to legal counsel and a hotel room. She wasn't able to sleep for 30+ hours.

Curiously, I think the list of countries that deny you legal counsel are lot shorter than the list of countries that do not.

It's usually safe to assume that you can have legal representation, unless you are being accused of something that is a diplomatic, political, or military dispute.

Even in immigration cases where you are yet to be admitted to the country? I thought that was a very mixed bag.

Sweden just added it last year. It's also a special fast track immigrations court.

Did she ask if she could have legal counsel?

>Wait what, what rights did she not have?

The right to leave and the right to privacy primarily.

Unfortunately, like other countries, the UK's Border Force[1] clearly has an above-average share of incompetents and bullies. If you give such people any power whatsoever, they will abuse it. Sadly, that's what happened here.

The real problem is that there is no accountability in these organisations. Even if a complaint by Rachel triggered an investigation, the culture in organisations like this is to protect their own. The worst that is likely to happen is that those responsible would be given "words of advice", which is more like a pat on the back than a slap on the wrist.

1: Incidentally, the Border Force is part of the Home Office, which is led by Theresa May, who is behind the push for 1984-style mass surveillance of the UK population.

> which is led by Theresa May, who is behind the push for 1984-style mass surveillance of the UK population

And who is also advocating that the UK leaves the European Convention on Human Rights. All these things are connected.

Theresa May is my local MP. I keep trying to vote her out, but the idiots around me keep voting her in!

So when we sleep walk into a mass surveillance state I can honestly look at the people who live around me and say 'this is your damn fault'.

They'll feel proud about it.

I'm not justifying what goes on there, but I happen to know someone who works in the immigration detention centre at one of the major UK airports. This article is right: you do not want to end up there. He is a guard at the centre, and must deal with the business of (sometimes forcefully) removing people from the UK who have been denied entry. He has dealt with people from almost every country in the world in this regard. Listening to his stories, there are huge differences, in general, between the people of different countries. Dealing with Russian people is different from dealing with Nepali people, or Japanese people. He thinks about how to approach people based on their nationality, because that's the patterns he deals with. You cannot expect people to maintain racial or cultural blindness in such a situation.

This is of course exacerbated by circumstance. In that harsh situation, like in any prison (effectively what it is), people mob together into their tribes, and in this particular situation, those tribes are based on nationality.

"You cannot expect people to maintain racial or cultural blindness in such a situation."

If not in this situation then when? We must place expectations on people in positions of power over others to treat all people fairly regardless of race. People should be judged by their actions. Those in positions of power who violate the trust we put in them should be punished.

I'm not trying to justify it, just explaining the reality. Human nature is a powerful thing, and there's only so much anyone can bend it to their will, especially when they're on a relatively low wage in a highly stressful job. I don't know what the solution is. Of course I agree that in an ideal world everyone is treated fairly, but if we want to make that a reality I think we'd need to radically review how these systems and processes work. These biases are universal, it's not just the UK, nobody has come up with a viable solution yet.

exactly. If you're representing law enforcement treating everybody the same and fairly is like 80% of what your job ought to be about.

To argue like the police or guards are somehow allowed to throw a tantrum is just incredible. If they can't do their job in stressful situations they're not qualified, period.

I was once called a "drifter" by a UK border guard.

Pro tip: Enter the UK from Ireland. There is no document check. No annoying border guard questions! No body at all. Just walk on through.

With Ryanair this will set you back a whole 30-50 bucks. Plus you can choose your London airport.

When arriving in Ireland, tell them your purpose is to drink a real Guinness! And maybe learn how to dance the jig.

If you do that be aware that e.g. US citizens only get maximum of 90 days instead of six months. Sometimes bites passengers transiting through Ireland.

I didn't realize that... but it's also important to note that Ireland is not part of the Schengen zone. After your 90 in Ireland/UK, you can move on to to Europe.

I'm never sure if Theresa May is evil or incompetent. It may be she is just incapable of controlling her department, although perhaps I'm being too charitable.

She's just the banality of evil. Her electorate clamours for ethnic purging and she modelled her political career on the "Iron Lady" image, so she wants to be seen as tough. If one of the most important cabinet posts were the Secretary for Milk, she'd insist that cows be milked 24/7, because that's what being "strong" means in that context.

Political elites the world over are the weakest in a century, so they react acting tough. They never actually have to deal with the fallout.

I strongly suspect it's the latter - every MP who becomes home secretary basically turns into a fascist, almost overnight. I guess they show them a bunch of secret reports on events that "almost" happened to scare them into going along with whatever the Home Office civil service have always been wanting to do.

I read somewhere recently that there are now so many requests for authorisation to do various things in connection with probably very nasty people that the Home Secretary can spend 5-6 hours on a typical day just reading them and granting the authorisations that require their personal approval.

Assuming that's reasonably accurate, it is hard to imagine how spending half your day every day just reading about people who are probably the worst of the worst in many cases could not have a profound effect on how you view the world.

Whether anyone so deeply immersed in such a biased view should be expected to serve in such a position for more than a short period of time, and whether they should be responsible for making judgements about much of anything else during that period, are entirely different questions.

I recall having read that the Home Office has a uniquely corrupting effect on its ministers. Also, it's not like the border was a gentle stroll through pleasant parkland prior to 2010. In fact, it was pretty much the same.

In general, it's not really practical to vilify individuals over policies and the actions of the bureaucracy -- that's different from not holding them responsible for things they're responsible for, but it's too easy to forget that Snooper's Charter was voted out of committee 444 to 69 a few days ago. They're all rotten.

> I'm never sure if Theresa May is evil or incompetent.

Why not both?

I wonddr if the whole "visa free travel" thing is the real problem. Better to make it easy for everyone to apply online before they actually board a flight. Ask sufficiently nuanced questions so that people know exactly what kind of visa they actually need.

Here's the UK version.


1) What's your nationality as shown on your passport?

2) What are you coming to the UK to do?

    Tourism, including visiting friends or family
    Work, academic visit or business
    Transit (on your way to somewhere else)
    Join partner or family for a long stay
    Get married or enter into a civil partnership
    Visit your child at school
    Get private medical treatment
    For official diplomatic or government business (including transit through the UK)
Here it's pretty clear that she's coming for "work, academic visit, or business".

3) How long are you planning to work in the UK for?

Answering USA, Work, less than 6 months takes you to this page: https://www.gov.uk/check-uk-visa/y/usa/work/six_months_or_le...

That was ast updated on 9th June, so let's look at archive.org - they have 2 snapshots, one of which is from May 2015. https://web.archive.org/web/20150509170713/https://www.gov.u...

At the top, in bigger font and bolded font are the words "You may need to apply for a visa".

It links to the standard visitor visa: https://web.archive.org/web/20150518091959/https://www.gov.u...

That page says:

    If you visit the UK on business
    You can apply for a Standard Visitor visa if you want to visit the UK for business-related activities, eg:

    you’re coming to the UK for a conference, meeting or training
and the permitted paid engagement visa: https://web.archive.org/web/20150518091959/https://www.gov.u...

No matter how it's described I can't imagine why people feel it's okay to travel to a different country to take part in a business meeting (even if that's unpaid) without either getting a visa or getting good quality legal advice.

My anger here is reserved for the conference organisers who didn't say "We don't know, let us ask a lawyer".

I'm pleased to see that web site has been improved. We went through this with some invited guest workers not so long ago, and at the time, the type of visa they needed was described in a very counter-intuitive place on the government web site. Much more time and money was spent trying to figure out what they needed than should have been necessary. It didn't give us much faith in the relevant authorities that even a relatively simple case where everyone was actively trying to do the right thing caused so much hassle, so it's nice to see that at least that particular issue has now been fixed and the part of the site you linked to would now give someone in the same position the right answer in a few seconds.

How was power abused? It sounds like she broke the rules, even if the rules were poorly explained in the first place.

Unfortunately, like other countries, the UK's Border Force[1] clearly has an above-average share of incompetents and bullies.

We need to get those people a job in the Department of Motor Vehicles where they belong.

This is a great article on how /not/ to talk to immigration officials, anywhere. I don't defend any heavy-handed attitude of the officers. It's just useful to understand the purpose behind the process.

> the young immigrations officer at LHR was very inquisitive about this old friend I was going to meet while I was in London for a conference: Who was he? Where did he live? What was our relationship? My awkward answers and copious fear sweating must have been unsatisfactory,...

The officer is trying to determine whether she is coming for a brief visit, or secretly planning to stay for a long time. That's their primary purpose in life. Expect these questions, and give the answers matter-of-factly.

> I just wanted to tell him what he wanted. But somehow that wasn’t enough. He tried to play games to prove something, but I didn’t seem to play along the way he hoped

It's an interrogation. Which is exactly like a game. It's their job. The secret trick is to tell the truth.

> I told him point blank: there is nothing I can tell you to make you happy. I have to be very careful what information I volunteer, because if I talk too much, you get angry. And now if I don’t talk enough, you get angry.

Translation, "I have something to hide and I just want to manipulate you". He doesn't want to hear what makes him happy, he wants to hear the facts. After this they really had no choice but to send her back, even if they were leaning the other way.

And yet, when you place someone in a position where they are tired and nervous, this is the sort of behavior you get. Whether or not they are innocent.

It's almost better to take as a cautionary tale about acknowledging your limits. Maybe asking for some rest and legal counsel could have helped. Maybe that would have angered them more.

And maybe her responses were very poorly considered and antagonistic. That, combined with the accidental violation of visa rules, seems like grounds for a brief delay and a fine. It doesn't seem like a good reason for a detention of many hours and deportation.

Yes - it's a great reminder to request legal representation. And it's true, nobody is their best when exhausted.

But violation of visa rules on entry results in being refused entry, anywhere you go.

I'm not saying that's good or right, I'm just saying that's how it works. You're asking permission to enter the country, and their job is to confirm that you're entering legally.

Horseshit. As a Romanian my parents witnessed the absolute scumness of people taking pleasure in hurting others (we killed thousands of our own in communist prisons). If you don't realise that what she witnessed is in the same registry of a disgusting human trait, and not something to be defended, you're not only living in Fantasy Land, but also spreading dangerous bullshit.

Can you point out what has wrong with his assessment?

He plainly states that he is not defending anything. And is offering useful advice. Remember it the next time you need to cross a border.

I'll bite. The GP post is condescending and useless in my world. Yes, I can recline in my armchair and come up with certain parts in the (honest?) recapitulation of this crazy trip. That's not helpful and not useful.

I'm going to assume that the person in this article, after seemingly traveling around the world for conferences as part of her regular activities, has some basic understanding of what you should do at a border.

So here's what I see when I read the GP:

- Hah, bad luck. But it's on you.

- I wouldn't end up in this situation, because I know how the system works

- "The secret trick is to tell the truth." (Except that part of the interview goes wrong when she honestly cannot remember if she got paid 2 years ago and admits as much)

Getting back: What is wrong with that assessment? Basically everything, but mostly the tone and the attitude.

We interpreted it differently, then.

The point to take home is not how this person would perform so much better than the OP. Is which variables we can control to decrease the chance of such escalations. We can control some, but ultimately it's up to the immigration officers and host country laws.

As for the trick. It is not a trick, it is something you need to do. The actual trick is not volunteering more information than necessary.

"Hi officer. I'm mostly here for a vacation, but there will be a day where I'll speak at a conference, and another where I'll distribute resumés and meet employees from several companies to expand my network, in the hopes of getting a job with one that will sponsor a visa in the future, even though I know most will be there for the free labor. It's called a hackaton. Also, I think you'd look better without those glasses."

Not telling the truth can get you a trip back at a port of entry. Or handcuffs at a consulate or embassy. Doesn't mean you need to tell them everything going through your mind at the time.

Ignoring my other answer: This is how I feel in "I need to sleep soon" simple bullet point statements.

1) "She didn't have the right visa and therefor wasn't allowed to enter/had to leave"

Fine. Bad for her. Her fault. Figure this out in 30-60min and help her to figure out a way to head back home.

2) "You should say … and not …" suggestions.

Awful. Especially combined with all the "Just state the truth. But try to avoid saying …" ideas. I really feel that these are out of place. Just look at this thread. You're trained to answer according to the protocol, instead of stating the truth.

3) _Anyone_ suggesting that the "detention" for hours at a time in a grimy place without any contact to the outside world and decent legal counsel is a valid reaction, whatever the potential immigrant failed to explain?

In that case, you are quite messed up in my world. I wonder what's wrong with you.

(the you in this case isn't addressed at the parent - it's the general "if the shoe fits" kind of thing)

> _Anyone_ suggesting that the "detention" for hours at a time in a grimy place without any contact to the outside world and decent legal counsel is a valid reaction, whatever the potential immigrant failed to explain?

That's just terrible and should be a human rights violation. AT THE VERY LEAST the emergency contact that you are required to provide should be informed of your whereabouts.

You're kind, I'm grumpy.

You're the better person.

The thing is: When you're in front of someone that is (my experience, matching the article) somewhere between unfriendly, annoyed and power-hungry and you KNOW that this person decides about your next couple of hours (or departure), rational advise by other people probably isn't the first thing to consider.

I know that I start to react differently in a car as soon as a police car is driving in my vincinity. I know that I personally felt like shit at most airport/border controls.

Yes, I could totally write a bot to answer with 'attend' vs 'speak' and 'vacation' vs 'work' for various answers. The rules of the game (it's a game. A terrible game) are easy enough. That doesn't change the fact that humans might get stuck, feel out of place, get anxious etc. etc..

The GP (and you in this kinder version) are flying across the sky here. Is it a plane? No, it's Captain Obvious.

You (both) are right. But the advise doesn't matter. The damage was done (for what benefit? Protecting the UK against .. what?) and I'd bet that the OP knows these guidelines as well.

Here's another thing: What good is a border control if all guidelines state that you should say basically nothing and fall back to "I'm on vacation" / "I'm visiting a conference" if pressed? If the .. helpful posts online try to explain how you might game the system or at least avoid suspicion? Look at all the threads here and you'll find people saying that you should just state this or that. That you shouldn't communicate something or another. Basically the tenor is that you should withhold information or (well, basically the same thing) lie to have it easy. It's messed up.

(Again: I think that you expressed the idea quite a bit less aggressive / accusatorily (if that's even a real word) though)

Frankly, it may be that today is a better than expected day for me. Any other day and my responses could have been less kind.

> The thing is: When you're in front of someone that is (my experience, matching the article) somewhere between unfriendly, annoyed and power-hungry and you KNOW that this person decides about your next couple of hours (or departure), rational advise by other people probably isn't the first thing to consider.

This is true. I avoided visiting my sister in the US for YEARS after my first contact with immigration authorities. And I wasn't even detained, just delayed for a couple of hours and had to wait in this room with other people. I've yet to visit Japan again, though. And it's been 16 years now.

> I know that I start to react differently in a car as soon as a police car is driving in my vincinity.

Yeap. The first time (and to this date, only) I was stopped by CHP, I was shaking. Not because I had done anything wrong, but it was precisely for the reason you describe. And I was treated in a very polite way, documentation checked, good to go have a nice day. I can imagine a less polite encounter wouldn't have gone so well.

It is all about power and how easily these people can screw up with you if they so desire. Thankfully, most people are just there for their jobs and have no intention of doing so.

In a sane system, we shouldn't have to rely on what someone's mood is in a specific day.

> He doesn't want to hear what makes him happy, he wants to hear the facts.

This is almost certainly not true (or he probably couldn't let anyone through according to protocol). They often just want to hear the right words spoken at the right times. See the top comment (https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=11877590) as a blatant (but positive) example of this.

Aw, thanks bro, we're living in 1984 here but don't mind us! We're busy trying to decide whether the burgeoning police state will continue to get worse within the EU or whether we'd be better off to have a cheeky Brexit and risk the Tories going full nazi meltdown later. 'May you live in interesting times' indeed. Did you miss the bit about banging her up, infringing her rights, stealing her phone, raising his voice tut-tut, generally threatening and abusing her? All still illegal in the UK, well until DC says otherwise with a bit of late night emergency secret selectively applied retrospective legislation. And the secret trick? What do you think she was telling them? How about 'No comment'. You won't find this on uk.gov probably, you won't find anything of much utility, being a propaganda site, how certain people would like the law to be rather than how it really is, for now.

'Sorry ma'am you cannot have that visa, you'll have to get temporary visitor visa instead - please note you can't work, enjoy your HOLIDAY'. A civilised country wouldn't even need to interview her. They're not fit to control anything bigger than a cloakroom.

Immigration bureaucrats are just doing a job. It's up to us to change the parameters of their job. So far they're expanding into the actual country: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6_3dDNPwJTU

There is no VISA you can get to receive an honorarium for speaking in the UK

Potential international speakers should also be warned this is also true of the US - except for certain types of academic institution (INA 212(q)). The UK also allows it via https://www.gov.uk/permitted-paid-engagement-visa but again, only for arts or academia. A commercial conference doesn't count, annoyingly (or even a community conference that merely happened to offer honoraria). However, if you are being paid by your employer to attend a conference to speak, it is fine (big disclaimer: IANAL).

Related from a few years ago, Uncle Bob was turned away from the UK: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3282583 - but I'm pretty sure he has been back since.

What an amazing difference a single word makes. I have travelled to the UK to attend and speak at an academic conference, and I probably said so to border agents. That single word probably makes a difference. I never even considered that I would be turned away.

Yeah, they're trained to pick up on the tiniest things. People seem to get hung by the details they share.

I try to follow the "say as little necessary to answer the question" advice. Out of numerous trips, I've only ever gotten to mentioning speaking once. Every other time, "why are you entering [country]?" gets "to attend an industry conference", and that's usually the end of it.

When going back to the United States from Canada, I was sent to secondary screening because I said I had a TN Visa, when the correct thing to say was TN Status.

I got chewed out because I said I'm "activating" a H1-B, when I should have said that I was being inspected for approval of an H1-B (or some shit like that).

That sounds like it could be emblematic of a power struggle between the State Department (which issues visas) and the Department of Homeland Security (which decides whether people are "admissible" on the basis of their inspection, which includes examining someone's visa status). DHS apparently really likes to emphasize that they, not State, ultimately decide whether someone will get into the country or not, regardless of visa status.


It's fairly easy to get a tourist visa to almost any country. Just get proof of intent to exit/entry, and documentation that you can support yourself for the extent of the trip, and you can go anywhere no matter what your nationality (almost).

Thus applying for a tourist visa then overstaying is often the easiest way to illegally immigrate---especially in a country like the USA, where there are plenty of non-standard jobs available to do where no one is asking for ID or work status.

> Just get proof of intent to exit/entry, and documentation that you can support yourself for the extent of the trip, and you can go anywhere no matter what your nationality (almost).

Some of the rich-country governments, when granting tourist visas to people from poor countries, also look for proof that the visitor has a strong reason to return to their country, which can include things like owning property there, having a family there, or having a hard-to-transfer professional license like a law license. People from poor countries who don't have these things often can't get tourist visas at all, even if they can prove they can support themselves for the duration of their visits, because the consular officers often assume intent to overstay the visa.

For example, I've heard this about Brazilians trying to get tourist visas for the U.S.: the main question is not so much "can you pay for this trip?" as "why will you come back to Brazil afterward?".

Edit: And I don't think the consular agents in these situations are satisfied by someone's having a round-trip ticket (that "proof of intent to exit").

I knew that you were talking about the US and Brazil even before you finished.

There's a twist in the way US immigration law works:

> because the consular officers often assume intent to overstay the visa

They are required to by law and regulations. The burden is on you to prove you have enough ties to your home country to go back before your time is up.

Depending on how old you are, being enrolled in college and traveling during vacations is enough. A little older, having a decent job is a good sign. Being a software engineer, for instance, is better, no matter if the janitor who was denied before you had money in his account. I've never been asked to show any sort of financial proof whatsoever. For the US, at least.

They also look into your family. If one of them has overstayed a visa or otherwise done bad things in the eyes of the immigration authorities, you'll have a really hard time. Or an easier time, if they have done everything right.

Now, suppose you have a relative who has applied your permanent residence. And then you decide to visit them for vacation while that is ongoing (can take more than a decade). You now have intent to immigrate, the application itself is the proof. Good luck.

> I knew that you were talking about the US and Brazil even before you finished.

I've also heard this about the Philippines and Nigeria.

But maybe Brazil has the largest number of would-be tourists who experience this level of skepticism.

I've also had no trouble when saying I'm attending an academic conference. However I have on occasion been asked follow-up questions about it, including once whether I was being paid to speak. I truthfully answered "no", but I imagine things could've gone less smoothly if I'd have answered "yes".

Coming to speak on web animation, perhaps the magic word to use would have been 'arts'.

Clearly analogous situations such as performers coming in to play music on a stage, or actors to perform one-man shows, are supported by existing visas. Seems this is a case where the legislation needs adjusting.

The magic word is "attend", instead of "speak".

The real takeaway of course, is that since this is theater, you must know your lines. If you don't, the whole thing stalls and you run the risk of being thrown into the gears.

Keep in mind, this was a white American detained for some arbitrary visa restrictions which is a rarity. Middle Eastern individuals are very frequently put in the 'corral of shame' for reasons unbeknownst to them. I can't recall how many times I've been randomly searched, or have had officers keep an eye on me. I've also occasionally put through interrogations by irate border patrol over the mundane minutiae of my travel. Her entire ordeal is one I've faced several times solely based off my appearance and name.

These acts and laws only give legitimacy to discriminate and harass travellers of certain backgrounds, yet failing to add any measure of security.

A lot of times the corral of shame contains old helpless people too, who seem to have been deliberately put there for the pleasure of the corral ranchers.

I and my family were traveling back home to Boston. Coincidentally, the Indian grandparents of close friends of ours were on the same flight to visit said friends. Like most old Indian ladies, the grandma was wearing traditional clothes (nothing fancy). They didn't speak much English.

They were detained at Logan. Fortunately, my mother (a US citizen) was allowed to be with them as a translator. They had them sit in this room for a long time, after which they asked arbitrary and silly questions.

That room was full of other old, non-white people wearing non-American clothing or "religious symbols" (e.g.a turban). Many didn't speak the language. Most were scared and confused. It was pretty clear that the officers just wanted to harass people.

If my mother hadn't been there the grandparents would have had a much more gruelling experience and would have probably been stuck there for a while.

"Old helpless people" are actually a risky category at border crossings. Elderly parents are brought in on a tourist visa, then they stay illegally and end up costing the country money for social services. Of course border controls would try to prevent that.

Right, except the questions asked weren't relevant to that (i don't remember what they were; this was years ago -- I remember my mom saying that they were confrontational and more focused on figuring out if the old people were terrorists)

Confrontational questions are a usual tactic in such interrogations; the goal is not to get the answers, but to get the subject into an agitated state, so he would have a harder time lying about the real questions.

This is true. It's an interrogation. If they simply stated we'll ask you these 20 questions, or even that all questions will be 100% relevant to your situation, then you could simply practice until you could lie with a straight-face to any possible question.

I wish more people understood this. When a border guard goes off on an a bizarre line of questioning, the intent is not simply to know the factual answers to those questions. Rather, it's to gauge your response and to disarm you mentally.

I'm pretty sure anyone who can maintain the façade of a bewildered old lady can survive under this line of questioning.

Not questioning the facts of your story, but how did you arrive at a conclusion on officer's motives?

Because they were trying to find out if obviously helpless old people were terrorists, and asking questions geared towards that.

It's possible they didn't have any motive, and the composition of that room was just a fluke. But I don't think it's likely.

I think it's perfectly reasonable to discriminate, I mean it's just sensible to pay a little more attention to a 23 year old male who is coming to London from Syria for the first time than an 80 year old white Romford grandmother returning home from visiting her grandson in Luxembourg.

Yes, dumb-ass, power hungry, bored border guards probably abuse this policy, but the alternative is to treat everyone the same and everyone gets quizzed, or not. It's a bind, what is the solution?

The author was right when she observed that we have done this to ourselves.

Just a small remark: If you're visiting the USA your fingerprints get taken every time (at least thats my experience). So that part of the story (an american complaining that their fingerprints got taken in the UK) is kind of skewed perspective.

Your fingerprints (all 10), iris scan, and photograph will be taken each time you apply for a UK Visa. Same goes for USA, so it did not come as a surprise, too. (I have an Indian Passport)

What my worry is, though, that all of the application processes are outsourced to VFS Global[0] for both USA and UK, and I can't help but be skeptic about it.

[0] http://www.vfsglobal.com/

However, the majority of foreigners entering both the UK and US do so without a visa, as far as I'm aware. In the UK case, typically no fingerprints are taken, whereas in the US they are.

Been to both countries a couple of times (I'm Dutch). Fingerprints got taken every time at the US, never happened to me at the UK border.

As an EU citizen they couldn't require you at the UK border even if they wanted too.

Not for another two weeks, anyway... :-(

It would take quite some time (likely at least a few years) even after a positive vote.

There's in fact a 2 year minimum period

Providing biometrics at the Border is still at some level okay, of course, assuming that their data security can be trusted.

At VFS Global, however, I see the "visa interviewer"[0] struggling to handle the computers, and can't help but be worried about how they'll be transmitting and storing that data. My personal experience with Indian firms handling data hasn't been good and I certainly do not trust them[1].

[0] They're also Indians, and employed by the firm. [1] I have only this anecdote -- I am not sure about how it is done elsewhere.

Lol. The 'Visa Waiver' is a visa. It's just an electronic one.

I've lived in the US for 6 years, first as a TN then as an H-1B, and I have Global Entry (and NEXUS). My favorite welcome back to the US is a a little note at the bottom of the receipt the Global Entry kiosk prints every time I show up:

"Warning.... an alien that accepts unauthorized employment is subject to deportation"

Thanks guys, it's great to be back ^_^

That's pretty standard. Think about every communication you've ever gotten from the government. There's always a warning somewhere on it. "Penalty for private use: $300" -- like I'm going to re-use an IRS envelope.

Both the UK and the USA border authorities share their biometric databases like gossip girls. Even when there's (5, 10 year) limit on the records, the safe bet it's been shared with rest of the globe and make endless circles via law enforcement cooperation.

I figure my fingerprints will be in the system decades after I die.

The UK police are infamous for clinging on to biometric data for years and years after courts have ordered said data destroyed.

Not only that, they image your irises and take a (probably biometric) picture of your face.

Photo and 10 prints every time I enter the US, and probably stored for eternity.

My favourite is a receipt I have for "Alien Flight Student", which required even more screening and fingerprinting. I'm still waiting for them to bring out the flying saucers...

When I arrived at SFO a few days ago, it was only 8 prints (they didn't want my thumbs).

Weird, I've literally never had this happen (Canada -> USA).

I totally believe it, but now I'm wondering about in what cases this policy is applied.

Canadian citizens are exempt if they're coming across as a visitor. Pretty much everyone else -- visa waiver program visitors, holders of non-immigrant visas, permanent residents -- get fingerprinted at the border these days.

The program used to be called US-VISIT, and has now been expanded into something called OBIM. There's much more information online under the former name.

I'm german, so it probably depends on the nationality of the visitor or maybe even the destination airport (I landed in Atlanta). But there was no discussion or anything, just "put your finger on this scanner, thanks, next finger ...". Everything was alright with my visa and every other passenger in line had to do the same thing.

> I've literally never had this happen (Canada -> USA).

Did you fly in? I imagine it only happens at airports, not at land borders

(I'm from the UK and I had my fingerprints taken at JFK)

I'm a French citizen living in Canada and going fairly often to the US by bus. They do it at land borders too, it's just that Canadian citizens are exempt.

Can confirm this is any non-Canadian, I'm from the UK -> fingerprints on a land crossing.

I flew from Canada into La Guardia recently and didn't have fingerprints taken.

Canadians get the same treatment that US citizens get and they don't do the fingerprint thing then.

All others, including ESTA or visa holders have to go through this every, single time. Souce: I was in the US 10+ times in the last 3 years and don't have a US nor Canadian passport.

Australian, can confirm they fingerprinted me on the one and only time I visited the US in 2009 - and I was a minor then as well.

Me too, 2010 or 2011 I think. I think that was on the same terminal where they later started hassling me for lefse or akevitt until I missed my connection (came from Scandinavia.)

To be fair: my best modern airport experience was US as well. Denver was just awesome, really surprisingly quick and amazingly effective (that's where I lost my key-tool with a 12mm blade I thought was legal and that went with me through several airports prior to Denver.)

As an American it is not her fault that your finger prints are taken at the US border so your argument that it is a "skewed perspective" and implication that she doesn't have a right to complain about it does not hold water.

Human rights in immigrant detention centres is something everyone should get behind.

Unfortunately this exact kind of treatment is common at the US border. Search for: denied port of entry nightmare.

e.g. https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3545548

I guess when you see scores of people trying to scam the system you get hard nosed about it in time.


It's human nature - if the people she faced deal with people who are trying to scam the system 90% of the time, they will be conditioned to deal with such individuals.

Then when the 1 out of 10 comes across who is genuinely NOT trying to pull a scam, it will be very hard for them to turn their attitude 180 degrees.

Sorry, although I buy the human nature argument there, from a government organisation point-of-view, that kind of behaviour is utterly unacceptable. If it's too difficult for people to do their jobs properly the way the system is set up, change the system. This isn't an impossible problem; we have many state bodies that have to deal with similar situations - police - and they simply should not be able to get away with this.

But - given the rules in place, she actually did not have the right paperwork to give a paid talk at the conference.

Ie I think the majority of the ordeal stems from this - not ill-handling on the part of staff who work there.

This was her mistake:

"..where a young man somberly asked me what brought me to the UK. “I’m giving a talk at a conference then traveling to see a bit of England. I have a letter of invitation,” I replied, confidently handing over the requested documents."

Just say "A short vacation", whether it is or not. Don't give the agent any more information than they need. Throughout her entire encounter with the agents, she was giving way more information than she needed to, which was prompting further questions.

Agreed, but be careful. * Do not lie to immigration officials, ever! * I can't stress this enough.

"Attending a conference" would have been true. The fact that she was a speaker as well is additional information that she could disclose if asked.

"A short vacation" could work, but beware. Depending on the country, this could get a flight back very quickly. Taking the US as an example: there's a "tourism" visa, and there's a "business", which includes attending conferences. For convenience, they have been issuing both at the same time if you ask for it on your application. However, if you only have the "tourism" visa, and it turns out that you are doing non-touristic activities at any time (such as going to a conference) and you don't have the required visa for that, you will be turned back.

As for the letter of invitation, if things are going smoothly, then it is not needed. If things start to look like they aren't going so well, then you pull out the letter of invitation.

Any information you volunteer opens new avenues for questioning. At some point you might be misinterpreted or be asked follow up questions that you don't recall. That never helps.

I don't wish this sort of experience to anyone. But the thing is, she's complaining as if the UK was an outlier. Her country does the same things, only worse.

Disclaimer: My views may be biased, but they are from experience.

Spent 4 hours to go through japanese immigration once - with my uncle, who is a citizen, in the next room(which I couldn't see) to check my answers. Were it not for him, I would have been sent back for sure.

Several US visas issued in the last few years, no rejections. No issues per se, other than navigating the amount of paperwork required (and double, triple, quadruple checking any information before submitting) and the required traveling. There's also the research required to make damn sure I was complying with all requirements.

Spent some time in a "yellow room" at the Atlanta port of entry. Consulate had messed up my fingerprints.

Went through immigration through Portugal a few times. No issues, even if they had to double check my info.

All good points.

If you say "here for a quick vacation", then they search your belongings and find an agenda for a conference or business papers, you can be sure you'll be denied entry.

Exactly. And that's not theoretical.

In Japan they did just that (after a few hours had passed already). They asked for some document (don't remember what), I pulled it from something similar to a file folder and handed to them. Was then asked to leave everything in the room and escorted back.

They found a list of phone numbers and addresses and asked what those were. They were for Prometric test centers. I was trying to get a Compaq certification at a time, Had already done two tests, was missing the third. I couldn't wait until after I came back from vacation due to a deadline, so had to take the third one there. Had to explain all this in Portuguese to a Spanish translator, to get that translated to Japanese.

I'm still amazed that they let me in. Took the test in Tokyo. Then HP bought Compaq. Poof the certification went.

I was even asked if I was religious. I had this postcard with a christian theme from my grandma to my aunt.

"Taking the US as an example: there's a "tourism" visa, and there's a "business", which includes attending conferences. "

No one will check you visa at the conference. So, while not lying about it, there is no reason to be open about it either since you will never get "caught".

It's not about lying, it's about giving only the information requested. "I'm attending a conference" would have been ok too, or even "I'm travelling for business" - I've used both in the US without the border agent asking any more questions.

When you volunteer a lot of information you come across as nervous, and sketchy

Sorry, but this is just victim blaming.

Innocent people should not have to avoid being truthful or complete in their answers just to avoid arousing "suspicion". Innocent people should not have to know ahead-of-time that giving honest and complete answers to an official will lead to this kind of treatment. This kind of treatment should not be acceptable under any circumstances for people who are actually innocent and/or have not done anything that would cause suspicion in a reasonable person. Giving complete answers is not reasonable grounds for suspicion.

What you're saying may be good advice in practical terms, but implying it's a sensible default is basically surrendering to an insane, broken system.

I'm not justifying what happened here and certainly the treatment she got was excessive. However, the reason that she had for entering the UK did require a visa that she had to obtain before traveling. The fact that she would have gotten admitted into the country if she would have given vague or wrong answers to the questions doesn't mean she is actually "innocent". Immigration officers are trained to pick up on people violating the law and she certainly was. This kind of treatment is not something you would get if you weren't.

> Immigration officers are trained to pick up on people violating the law and she certainly was.

I question your statement that she "certainly" was violating the law. She and the conference organizers had researched the situation beforehand and attempted to obtain the correct visa. The publicly available information about the visa programs did not specify that the nationality of the company sponsoring the conference made a difference. You state "the reason that she had for entering the UK did require a visa that she had to obtain before traveling" but according to her research after the fact the truth is that the reason that she had for entering the UK was not supported by any sort of visa.

The origin of the company is irrelevant (even if the officer asked questions about this topic – they like doing that). Even if it had been a British company she would not had been allowed in. The rules are clear (Getting paid? Not getting in visa-free with very few exceptions).

And even if there would have been no appropriate visa to apply for that means the UK does not want those people in. Turning up at the border and requesting entry based on a reason not allowed on the visa-free program is not a solution no matter how wrong the situation feels.

Blaming is one thing. Saying that certain actions lead to certain outcomes is another.

Moral responsibility and causality are two different things.

This wasn't "her mistake", in the sense that the crucial difference "giving a talk at a conference" and "attending a conference" have meaning within the bureaucracy that is totally inscrutable to outsiders. She was being judged at a trial with secret rules.

That difference (getting paid) is spelt out quite clearly on the UK Home Office's website and is certainly not a secret. Failure to check upon requirements does not excuse her even if personally thinking that a policy change is needed.

The difference (as described in her post) was that the conference was sponsored by a German organization, not a UK-based one, and that was not detailed on the Web site.

Even if the conference would have been sponsored by a British organization this would have resulted in the same outcome no matter what she described in her post.

"[The officer] told me that the honorarium and letter of invitation only applies if the company inviting you to the UK is based in the United Kingdom. This clarification was not on the gov.uk site I and the organizers poured over."

As a US citizen, I go to my company's Canadian office every so often. I have no issues saying it's for business -- the first time ever I was a noob and was asked to park and go inside for more questioning but once I clarified that my company is US HQ'd, that I was just there for meetings (not actual work?), and that I'm not a manager everything was swell. I later learned actual managers at my company never reveal they're a manager, or at least not over anyone they're going to meet with.

The other thing about volunteering extra information is it can come back to bite you if you're not consistent next time, so I also try being as vague but still truthful as possible. If I was visiting anywhere else but Canada, though, I wouldn't have any problems skipping the whole drama with "I'm traveling for a vacation" and "nope, not meeting anyone I know" regardless of whether that is true or not.

Border crossing is basically a hazing ritual in a lot of places, and while I agree with GP's "this was her mistake" it really is dumb we all have to put up with the hazing. Kind of like not bribing a cop in [insert south american nation here] who is giving you trouble, or bribing him with way too much money. Some people just don't get that there are dumb, sucky customs where not following them (or trying to follow what they think is the most honest or rational process) is a mistake and complaining about the mistake after the fact won't solve anything.

I've done the same (US employee going to Canadian office).

Interestingly enough, me and my colleagues were pulled aside for additional questioning because two of us didn't own cars (we both live in Seattle and bus everywhere). For some reason the Canadian border agent simply didn't believe that people in the US don't own cars! We were able to go through after the manager of the team we were going to meet had been called to verify our story.

The only place I've (white American male) ever had an issue is entering Canada, too, for the reason you specify. My company had just purchased a Canadian company, I was a manager, and I was explicitly going there to get to know the new team and start making decisions about whom to keep/reassign/let go. The immigration officer was not excited about letting me in.

Isn't it illegal to work for money while claiming you're just doing tourism? Seems like it could get her denied from future visits.

When dealing with a rigid system built on stupid rules it's better to avoid direct confrontation.

She would have a 0.1% chance of being denied future visits vs the 50% chance of going through the experience she faced.

Are you saying that 50% of the US visitors to the UK who say anything other than "short vacation" get that experience? I frankly find that hard to believe.

No - I'm saying that when she said to the border agent 'I'm going to give a talk at a conference' the situation became 50-50.

He could have nodded along and said 'I hope you have a good opening joke' or he could go down the route it ultimately went.

This is correct. That's why there is a distinction between vacation vs. business visits.

Whoever is reading this: don't take advice you read on the Internet regarding these types of things. Just this thread alone contains a ton of misinformation that can get you in big trouble.

So the victim is to blame for their honesty? How does this improve security?

The point is not to blame the victim for her actions, (that's in the past) but to advise on how to avoid such a situation yourself. (in the future)

Border crossings are one of those utterly weird situations where not knowing what's up will put you at odds with people who have zero respect for your convenience or comfort and are perfectly willing to remove you from both. And you won't learn what's up the first, second, third, or even fourth time you go through. You have to first appreciate the gravity of the situation and then second learn what you have to in order to gain successful passage.

Borders are where ordinary people run right smack into geopolitics. Most of us have learned the lesson from others to not bring plants or currency across borders, and not to say you're working without a work visa, but there's lots of other things that can fuck you over.

I learn something every time I read a story like this. In this case it's about the necessity of not giving the appearance of tax avoidance. This particular situation had nothing to do with security, they weren't worried about her trying to attack the UK.

And what would your "advise" be if she would get into trouble for lying to a custom officer? I guess something like "Just don't lie".

In order you to get in trouble for lying then they have to catch you in a lie. The easiest way for them to do that is for them to get you to admit to lying. This is why it's so important for you to give short, non-committal answers to their questions that reveal nothing, and to never let your guard down, because customs officials (any kind of security personnel, really) are not your friends.

To be sure that they couldn't catch her lying, she would have to avoid to take anything with her which could give a hint for her real purpose of visit. Also she should avoid that her name is for example on the speaker list. Also she should have a complete faked travel plan for her touristic visit, including hotel bookings.

Does this sound realistic?

Me personally, I would be sure to bring nothing with me across a border that could give a customs official anything to pester me about. This varies depending on the geopolitics of the region. I don't have to worry about wiping my laptop when traveling to Latin America, but I would absolutely do so if I were going to the UK.

I certainly would not bring any documents. If I really needed hard copies, then beforehand I would scan them and upload them to Dropbox, then print them back out after I step off the plane.

I'd bring a cheap burner phone and keep my contacts in the cloud, with a short list of essential names / numbers in my wallet. If asked about the clean phone, I'd just say I'm worried about theft.

That way, when I tell them I'm just there for a vacation, they have no reason not to believe me, and even if they didn't, no inconsistency to start grilling me on.

For hotel booking, I'd simply tell them the name of the hotel I'm actually staying at. If they want to verify, they can call the hotel, I am not going to volunteer a booking printout.

If you were to look in my car at any given time, you would find nothing immediately visible. This is both to deter someone looking to break into my car to steal something, and law enforcement officials looking for something to mess with me over. I hold to the same principle when traveling. Stay clean and nondescript when moving through dangerous territory.

I would take these steps whether I'm actually going for a vacation or not. I would never travel to another country willingly unless I could follow this protocol. It's just too dangerous.

Sure, and I guess the speaker list problem could be avoided by using a faked passport.

Edit: can't add a reply to the followup question anymore. So I add it here. Google, all your 007 travel style will break down if the find your name via Google on the speaker list.

> if the find your name via Google on the speaker list.

They'd first need me to give them a reason to Google my name.

If you're nondescript, then you don't arouse this kind of suspicion in the first place.

How would that be a problem? If they don't know I'm going to a conference, then why would they go checking speaker lists?

It doesn't improve security. That is a different conversation. This about how to mitigate risk of hassle in interacting with a system that is broken (or, more depressing/honest working properly towards non-security aims).

Yes, this is a textbook case of idiotic bureaucrats encouraging good, honest people to lie in order to go about their day-to-day lives. This policy is clearly counterproductive. -- UK citizen, absolutely furious about this.

"Being compliant and truthful with the authorities in a routine border crossing was her mistake."

Whether or not it "just works", or how often people do it, that is just insane.

But the agents don't actually want to know why people are traveling. Knowing that forces them to actually do something that isn't routine, which is annoying and a time sink. It's better to withhold information unless explicitly requested, to simplify and streamline the flow for both you as passenger and they as agents.

> It's better to withhold information unless explicitly requested

But that's not the question. The question is whether or not it's better to lie about why you're travelling. Now, for some percentage of the time it probably is better in practice. But it's a trade with a fairly large downside. Border agents have lots of reasons to carry out checks so you'll need to be very sure that everything else is completely fine and be lucky you don't hit a random check.

And they do check. I've had to vouch for people at airports and they've checked social media, Google etc. For the lady in the article, it sounds like what she went through was solely for flouting work laws (and being rude but that would have just affected the degree of surliness). You get caught for directly lying and they'll be all over you for illegal immigration/terrorism. I would expect that to be more lengthy and more unpleasant than the unfortunate lady experienced.

My advice? If you want to earn money in a foreign country do it legally. At the very least check with the consulate/embassy and get their answer in writing if possible.

I agree 100%. In this case she should have dotted i's and crossed t's and known inside & out exactly what the rule are governing the actions she was planning. As a longtime corporate employee, even I knew that specifying anything besides "business meetings" throws flags... but this isn't common knowledge for most people, nor are the minutiae governing specific reasons for travel to specific places. For example, if you've never traveled to a country that requires a visa but which only sells visas upon landing at their port of entry, that can be disconcerting. Will they take credit cards? What about my native currency? Do I need special paperwork? Will they stamp my passport or issue a new sheet? Can they just send me home?

Indeed. What I think is happening is that international travel is a little too easy. Not a bad thing of itself but it's easy to get caught out thinking that it's just like intranatioanl travel.

It hit home to me a few years ago when I was travelling between the US and UK a fair amount. One time I arrived in JFK and realised that all the ATMs were down. I also realised that I had travelled thousands of miles and hadn't bothered to carry any local currency. It hadn't occurred to me that this was a bit stupid because, well, it hadn't been a problem before. Was a bit of a wake up call to think a bit more in future.

When I visited UK for the first time I did say I was giving a talk at a conference (which was true). I didn't know you're not supposed to say that. Granted that was many years ago, but they let me through.

I think the important part is that she visited for a second time. They already had her in the database and flagged her for some reason.

Giving a talk at a conference is fine. Getting paid to give a talk at a conference is for many (most?) categories of conference employment and hence not fine.

"A short vacation" would have been a lie. "I'm attending a conference" would have been better - I agree with you, give them minimum, make them ask for more. Unless you're triggering red flags, they'll move on.

I do often think that we should get rid of special treatment for "important" people going through these types of systems. If politicians, executives, etc had to go through the same thing, I think a lot of the inefficiencies would get fixed. As they stand now, there's no reason to make them efficient, because anyone who has the power to do so bypasses the system entirely.

Imagine how fast things would change if the president had to go through the TSA.

> Imagine how fast things would change if the president had to go through the TSA.

I don't think they would change at all.

30 minutes or an hour of time is inconsequential compared to the political (and non-political...) calculations that are made by someone in an office like that. People tend to be far more conservative when given actual decision-making power, and care much more about the big picture calculations than about their personal annoyances.

More-over, lots of congress people do fly commercial and yet support the TSA (either politically or actually).

More-over, lots of congress people do fly commercial and yet support the TSA (either politically or actually).

Because they use pre-check. And congresspeople get access to the top of the tiered justice system in America so they don't care about the liberty implications of Pre-Check.

This suggests that the inefficiencies would not be fixed, but instead explicitly codified exceptions -- with a high cost to the average user but little cost to political and economic elite -- would be created.

> “Never tell them you’re coming for anything but tourism.”

> When I was finally able to talk to my husband again, one of the very first things he told me was, “Don’t blame yourself for being truthful.”

Very true. Your response goes into a "bin" (or a checkmark on a form). There are only so many bins there. One for terrorists, one for migrant workers, one for tourists. Self employed web developers, who are paid by a German company, do not fit in any of the bins. But they'll still try to pick one.

The lesson bureaucracy is teaching people is to lie. Even though officially on paper they warn people to tell the truth. To put it another way. Consider who you are talking to and decide if they can handle the truth. A bureaucracy and its minions cannot handle it. Or rather, they'll handle it at your detriment.

It's also about having very correct details in this case.

If she had bothered to apply for the correct VISA there wouldn't have been an issue, but they clearly feel they are a special little snowflake because animation API is more important than a standardised work VISA system.

I'm sorry but I strongly disagree with your assertion. Honesty and preparation IS the best policy. Imagine if I'd lied when I was detained in Tampa because of some missing clearance the US Embassy in London had forgotten to do. I had to wait hours in a holding area. I'd paid $200 USD for that. One little lie and the situation would have been far worse.

This seems excessively harsh. I didn't see the author say anything about expecting special treatment or rejecting the value of a standardized work visa system. As far as I can tell, she made a number of reasonable assumptions that someone not familiar with the details of UK travel law might make.

Secondly, her intent was to do something beneficial in the country. Whatever your views on on web animation, she was part of an event that brought visitors, economic activity, and tax revenues to the country. Conceivably, the border control agency could have satisfied their rules and not denied their country the benefits of her visit -- by simply charging her a fee for last-minute changes to her visa terms. That would serve as a lesson and deterrent, without subjecting a person who didn't have any malicious intent to a long detention.

And don't kid yourself about lying. Lying here doesn't mean "would a fair court judge your statements as true", it means "did the particular agent who interviewed you think you might be lying". There is tremendous discretion for the officers involved, and they get it wrong sometimes. If you think that never happens, you'll support naive systems that have pretty high rates of injustice.

What do you mean? She had visa on arrival, and the website indicated she was within the parameters for it. That's really all the work she needed to do.

Sure, its a travesty that some passports have this privilege over others, but you can't blame her for underpreperation.

Her point about the animation api is relevant, because visa criteria involve whether or not someone local can provide the same workshop.

It's unfortunate what happened to this woman, and probably to many others, but there's no evidence given at all that the "people who look like us" angle was ever a factor in what happened. That is FUD that serves solely to to provoke an irrational emotional response in the reader, not rationally supported in any way.

There's no evidence presented in this article to support the author's many claims that the UK immigration system discriminates on a racial "people who look like us" basis. ("It seems to me..." does not count as evidence.)

Yes, the immigration bureaucracy is badly broken. Yes, the laws are in many cases stupid and ought to be changed. No, latent racism, sexism, or classism are not in any way factors -- at least based on the events described in this article. The very basis of the article -- a middle class professional white woman from the US was deported because she broke the rules, despite her "looks like us" appearance -- is evidence to the contrary.

The one time in the article when she meets someone who might possibly be a racist (which is not even clear), the possible-racist even says that "the rules" always prevent her from ever acting on any of her possibly-racist impulses. Doesn't that mean the system is actually working pretty well in terms of preventing racist factors from entering into its operation?

That whole "people who look like us" theme is fearmongering, pandering to those who both love to speculate wildly about others' motives without evidence, and who are also consumed by liberal guilt. (The only thing missing is a "glance of solidarity" somewhere.)

She is understandably angry that she was deported, and feels like publicly shaming the system that deported her, so she picks a favorite pet issue (hidden racism) that has cachet in society and projects it onto that system, without any supporting evidence at all.

Now, if there is actual evidence of racism in some system, that's another matter entirely. But "it seems to me.." is not, in itself, evidence, it's just unfounded guessing and speculation designed to rile people up into a fit of righteous indignation, on an emotional rather than rational basis.

Could not agree more. I find it pretty rich to say "There’s a lot of racism in the UK." based off interactions with a country's border force. Am I allowed to make the same observations about the general US populace based on the way the Mexican border is operated? I had a lot of sympathy for Rachel's ordeal but this paragraph really left a bad taste.

As an immigrant to the UK (and now citizen), the single-mindedness in which "The Rules" are applied have been extremely frustrating. But at no point have I thought that it wasn't fair. I've had a visa application rejected and lost £350 in the process. I didn't follow the rules to the letter and I literally paid for it. Since then I've always followed the guidelines and not had an issue since.

> The very basis of the article -- a middle class professional white woman from the US was deported because she broke the rules, despite her "looks like us" appearance -- is evidence to the contrary.

The fact that she can't see the irony just reeks of privilege.

Funny, my experience as South American is the exact opposite: expensive USA VISA (USD 160!) for attending a conference, US border asking about everything, checking my story and even knowledge about programming (!), etc - UK border just asking the purpose of my travel, stamping the passport and saying "welcome to UK". And I didn't even need a VISA.

One thing for sure is: you have to know the visa requirements and you have to answer what they want to hear. That's true everywhere - USA included - so you're just lucky as a USA citizen to never go through the USA interview process.

If it makes you feel better, when Bush put that policy in place the Brazilian government was quick to institute a reciprocal fee, and the Brazilian immigration agents can be a royal pain for foreigners to deal with (I had a colleague get rejected at border entry once for a stupid, stupid reason).

I've heard the story of an American going through the reciprocal process in Brazil -- getting finger printed, interviewed, all sorts of documents generated -- and then having the interviewer confess that they were just going to throw it all away because they didn't actually have anything to do with the reciprocally generated data...

Don't leave us hanging... what was the stupid, stupid reason?

I'm currently an EU citizen living in UK. This here is exactly the reason why I fear that UK might want to leave EU, even though every single English friend of mine is telling me that I would obtain a visa to stay and continue working here without any problems, if visas were introduced. The truth is - if I had to have a visa to stay here, I would rather go to the country of my birth, even though I feel no connection to it. I don't think I could mentally survive the anguish of being denied entry to UK, even though I live here, work here, have my partner, our house and our whole lives here - just because a border official might not like my visa or what I said. It would be just humiliating and the thought of that happening is feeling me with real dread.

Unfortunately, I suppose this is exactly what we (meaning the electorate who voted since 2001) wanted. By allowing politicians to pass bills like the Patriot Act (which started this whole mess and quickly brought about similar security and surveillance laws in at least every other country that's on friendly terms with the US) we brought this kind of treatment on ourselves. How can one establish organizations like the TSA or the Border Force - its UK counterpart - and seriously not expect things like this to happen?

Unfortunately, the majority likely doesn't care at all when some 'snotty' designer gets held up at the airport and sent back to her home country. "Probably deserves it anyway in some way, doesn't she?" In fact, resentfulness towards people who get to 'live the life' and travel for 'work' might play a role here, too.

The aspect of a German company paying her in British pounds. shouldn't be a problem at all. After all, that's what the EU single market should be about. Theoretically, that is ... It seems as if the EU can't get anything right anymore these days, though.

Just claiming VAT you payed in another EU country has become so ridiculously complex I have given up on it. Fortunately, in my case it's just things like the occasional conference fee so the loss is minimal but I can't imagine how anyone could run say an eCommerce business in Europe and sell in more than one EU country these days without having to resort to founding a company in each of those countries.

No, border crossings have been like this since long before the PATRIOT act. Computer scientists were turned away at the borders trying to fly in to give Black Hat talks; I worked for a Canadian company and had strict instructions to tell the Canadian border people I was traveling to see friends, and so on.

This has nothing to do with terrorism. It has to do with visa classifications, and the skittishness of countries about people visiting (or, the concern is, immigrating) to do work.

Also: as a reminder, the UK has long been concerned about people smuggling arms and the like for the sake of terrorism: the majority of arms used by the IRA originated in the US for decades before 9/11 (after which the US supply largely dried up, as did US funding of such terrorist groups).

That does not sound correct to me. The IRA got most of its weapons from Libya [http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/ira/inside/wea...] from the 1980's on, and the Good Friday agreement was signed (presumably suspending arms smuggling) years before 9/11.

And the majority of the arms used by loyalist paramilitaries came from South Africa via the UK security forces.

Our government and arms businesses are happy for the guns to leave the UK, though.

> The aspect of a German company paying her in British pounds. shouldn't be a problem at all.

As far as I know in Germany the same rule applies as in Austria: you need to have the amount in EUR on the invoice at least in addition of another currency with an exchange rate.

Unrelated to the issues raised by the article - I love that the callout text was not simply repeated quotes from the body.

I wish more sites/people would follow this author's lead.

This is a horrible experience that she went through, but one quote stuck out:

> The room’s only other occupants were men. I do not feel comfortable in rooms full of men I do not know with the door closed.

Why? This doesn't make sense. What does she think is going to happen? Are most men really presumed to be rapists or something?

To be perfectly honest, as a man, I don't feel comfortable being in rooms full of people I don't know regardless of gender but I feel more uneasy when it's only men. Somehow it feels more threatening to me. Being regularly beat up by a group of boys in school probably didn't help. Some of those feelings stick around.

With regards to the rest of your question; I don't think most men are presumed to be rapists and I don't think that is what the author means. There are also many other forms or perceived threats of violence that can make people uncomfortable.

There are multiple studies on the topic of male/female group dynamics that you might find interesting to read on this topic.

It's a Bayesian thing: relatively low risk that a given man will assault you multiplied by the extreme personal suffering of being assaulted = high alert in situations where it would be easy for a man to assault you. She's already vulnerable and exhausted. I would feel uneasy too.

To add insult to injury, these men were already selected as suspicious by the immigration officers. The psychological effect is quite easily imagined, regardless of the usefulness of their definition of "suspicious".

If she was innocent, could they not have been too?

That's why I added the last half-sentence.

Because if something goes south, who is going to back you up?

It's just a probabilistic calculation based on experience. A lot of guys won't step up if another guy starts harassing you, because they'll be bowing to the pressure of the crowd and out of "politeness" to their male compatriots won't say anything. If there were several women in there to start with, it would be less likely that harassment would start and more likely that someone would intervene, although it's by no means guaranteed.

We're not talking about rape, here. It's as simple as the creepy conversations that start, "Hey, honey, why're you in here? What's your name?" and proceed to boundary-pushing that you physically can't escape from in a small room like that. And none of the other guys are going to intervene with that, because they're not going to see it as boundary-pushing and harassment. (Hell, my own husband has said, "What's wrong with that, he's just trying to make conversation!" when there's been that sliding a little closer, trying to get personal details, what's your name where do you live what did you come here for do you have a boyfriend.) Another woman might notice and deflect. I certainly have.

Many guys would say, what's wrong with being forced into a conversation in a locked room? It's the lack of choice, the lack of escape. Being forced to deal with monitoring whether you'll be safe, whether the interaction is innocuous or not, what you're revealing, again how it could be used against you, the cajoling if you don't want to talk ("smile! it can't be that bad! I just want to talk! at least you're getting out soon... where are you going?") at 30 hours without sleep -- just not fun.


American businessmen I stood next to in line at immigration? Perhaps they had companies like IBM and Microsoft backing them, legitimizing their travel and threatening big trouble for anyone interfering. Two women

I honestly do not think that gender had anything to do with this, and it's a little weird to shoehorn it in.

Not that I dont feel sorry for the author of the story, since this is terrible experience, no matter who experiences it, but as an American, a citizen of a country that has one of most restrictive and humiliating border procedures around the civilized world (try landing with valid visa on JFK as non American human being...) complaining at this sounds - well, odd.

Better to keep quiet and pretend it didn't happen because other countries do the same thing?

She can't talk about her experience with USA treatment of non-citizens because she didn't experience it. Though she did call it out in the article: And it goes both ways: a colleague I immensely respect will no longer speak or hold workshops in the USA because he was denied entry at our border in a similar process.

I've not said OP should be quiet, nor it was my intention to imply so. I simply felt strange to read complaints about something, that the OP's country excels at. Shall it be connected with some awareness about that fact (much more than the mere line you're quoting) it wouldn't feel odd to me.

Not everyone feels personally responsible for the actions of the country they happen to be born in.

They should because they decide the country's actions through their votes. For a democracy like the US or UK, at least.

I have heard a lot of anecdotal stories that UK border guards are pretty fucking terrible.

Also, although I've never been detained or turned away, I can say that every time I've been to the UK, the border guards and security agents have uniformly been very, very rude.

Why do you assume the US is worse than the UK? Do you have a source?

> The handlers, they talk like you aren’t listening.

Experienced this at US border a few months ago. Officers repeatedly referred to my wife and another man's wife (both Chinese) as "bitches". After flying 12 hours from Hong Kong and not wanting to be put back on a plane, the best you can do is shut up and play their games until they let you through.

I was also told by the officer that I was stupid for having shown my visa and "nobody does that" (I'm a Canadian who works in the US, I was under the impression I had to show it each time I re-entered... still confused about what he meant).

Stepping slightly back from this particular horrible experience, I don't understand _why_ this particular set of institutional rules are in place.

Was there a thought that foreign speakers who were subsidized by foreign governments were inciting rebellion?

Are there tax issues?

Was this some big money laundering loophole or something?

Is there a concern that people were using this as figleaf to immigrate illegally?

Foreign paid speakers fall, by definition of the words into immigrants who are entering the country in order to work (paid employment). The law does not special-case people who are going to leave immediately afterwards.

This is, sadly, not a new problem. It's been a problem for touring musicians for decades.

Pretty much any country has separate entry rules for people travelling for leisure or work.

She was travelling for work. She, and the conference, failed to get good enough legal advice about the travel requirements.

Here' the page she links to: https://www.gov.uk/check-uk-visa/y/usa/work/six_months_or_le...

Read that and tell me you'd travel how she did without getting more advice.

> If you’re invited as an expert

> You can stay in the UK for up to 1 month without a visa, but you can only be paid to do certain things, eg:

> give guest lectures at a higher education institution

> provide advocacy in legal proceedings

> take part in arts, entertainment or sporting activities

> Check the full list of what you can be paid to do - it’s the same as what you can do on a Permitted Paid Engagement visa.


From her screenshot (with pretty different wording) and the footer ("Last updated: 9 June 2016") it's clear that that page has substantially changed since, which is unfortunate (although definitely clearer now!).

It's essentially because it's a very special case of coming into the country for paid work (albeit very temporary!). As such, it falls, by default, into the laws regarding temporary work.

generally speaking, countries don't want you to be in them and be paid by a foreign company.

Think about it, if you're in the UK but being "paid" by a German company, are you really paying the right kind of taxes? What's to stop every major corp from having the Cayman Islands branch hire you.

Usually people working for foreign corps end up actually being contractors (and paying self-employment taxes or whatnot).

Being paid by a company in any country is equally not OK. It seems the Germany-part is just a red herring/the officer being a dick (it seems they could have easily rejected her straight at the desk - you're here to work, you don't have the visa, done, have a nice flight back, next please).

> it seems they could have easily rejected her straight at the desk - you're here to work, you don't have the visa, done, have a nice flight back, next please

They can't actually do that, any refusal has to be signed off by the duty head of the port (IIRC; I presume each terminal at LHR has a separate one!), as far as I'm aware.

generally speaking, countries don't want you to be in them and be paid by a foreign company.

Curiously, the US prefers this for temporary visitors. If you are being paid by a company outside the US to speak at a US conference, it's fine, but you are not allowed to be paid by a "US source". I guess the theory is being paid by a non-US source means you're "on business" rather than "working in the US".

That's not an immigration matter, though. As far as I'm aware, taxation policy isn't really something that comes into play with UK immigration.

The rules are in place because of the deeply-ingrained xenophobia gripping the UK. Trying to find logical reason behind the rules won't get you anywhere!

>deeply-ingrained xenophobia gripping the UK

so ingrained that people from all over the world live in the UK.

I'm Scottish, and I absolutely detest traveling through Heathrow. The security and border controls there are some of the most oppressive I've ever encountered.

Depending on where you're flying, that could include multiple baggage searches and multiple biometric photos (flying OUT of the UK, I counted three - security, a secondary queue before entering the terminal concourse, and at the gate). Questioning why you're being photographed (let alone asking about data retention policies) just invites further scrutiny and questioning.

Recently I had my bag emptied (I wasn't allowed to unpack it carefully) and was questioned very rigorously as to why I was carrying so many cables (I had a micro-USB cable to charge my phone, a laptop charger, and an HDMI cable to watch some Netflix at the hotel). I had to justify each item in my bag.

The attitude is the worst part. I feel like I'm being treated like a criminal and have to prove that I'm not. Every time I travel in or out, I feel the anxiety rise. It's difficult to explain.

That's not to suggest Glasgow Intl Airport is much better. Flying to the US last month, I check-in queues for AA were enormous. Some staff (I assumed they were customer service agents trying to keep the queuing travellers happy) were walking up and down, chatting with people.

They cheerily asked "Where are you going?". "Oh that's exciting. Have you been before? I love that city! Did you have to save up much spending money for an 8 day trip? What are you planning to do when you're there?"

As the questions went on, I got more suspicious.

"What do you do for a living? Oh that sounds exciting. Did you grow up in Glasgow? What about your fiancée, what does she do? Oh, you got engaged in the US? How long was that trip and what did you see when you were there?"

At the end, the guy asked for my passport and attached a "Security cleared" sticker to it.

I'd been surreptitiously interviewed and subject to behavioural profiling by staff from a contractor named ICTS [1]. It wasn't a good feeling. I felt deceived. It felt like they were putting a friendly face on trying to catch me out.

This only seemed to be happening in the AA line, and I've never been subject to this sort of interview in the past.

Does this actually work? I'd assume that any determined terrorist or trouble-maker would have a big smile and a well-rehearsed story.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ICTS_International

The Israeli government swears by this method. Given the high threat-level and low incident rate one shouldn't say it's ineffective. Honestly, I would rather have such a method than the almost useless security theatre we face at every airport.

(After clicking the link I noticed that it's actually founded by former Israeli intelligence workers.)

I think the threats are a little different here, however.

I can understand the need for more compromise somewhere like Israel where there's a very visible and real terror threat. It's perhaps a more applicable system in that environment. We don't have that here - I don't think it's particularly useful given the threat landscape in the UK.

Perhaps at the height of the troubles in Northern Ireland, where there was a tangible threat of terrorism.

If we're to be interviewed in line by security officers, I'd prefer that they identify themselves as such and make it clear that this is a security screening and not just a friendly chat from a genuinely interested CS agent. To do otherwise just seems deceitful.

Edit: To add, while I don't necessarily agree with your assessment, I did upvote your comment - I think it adds to the discussion and provides some valuable perspective.

At the end, the guy asked for my passport and attached a "Security cleared" sticker to it.

FWIW, Virgin has slapped tons of these on my passport without such an interview. They appear to be applied once you have answered the mandatory questions around your baggage (i.e. did you pack it yourself? are there any prohibited items?)

That's what I initially thought, but he didn't ask anything about my luggage. That would have made it too obvious it was a security interview.

We were asked the standard baggage questions by the check-in agent. The ICTS thing was something completely different and new to us.

When we got to the gate, the same group of covert screeners were there waiting for us and doing additional screening.

I showed my passport to the gate agent, took three steps (past the desk, onto the jet bridge, and had to show it again to ICTS contractor. It seemed ridiculous and redundant. By this point, I'd shown my passport at least five times (ICTS queue interview, check-in desk, security, gate, ICTS again).

The purpose of ICTS process is to establish that you will not be deported from your destination country. When they put the sticker on the passport it means that they are satisfied that you have the correct visa/visa waiver to enter. If you get deported then the airline has to repatriate you at their expense.

I don't think so, in this case.

We weren't asked anything about completion of an ESTA or API. It definitely felt like more of a security/behavioural screening - not a check on visa or travel eligibility.

If this was the case, they'd have made their intentions clear and wouldn't have been at the gate waiting to re-check passengers. Or that check would have been performed at the check-in desk, where they check your eligibility to travel (correct documentation, tickets, etc).

I do suspect, however, that they're contracted by the airline. They weren't in any other airline's check-in queue and we've never seen them in the past (this was our first time flying AA).

They are contractors, and I expect that different airlines will engage them for different purposes.

Depending on airline, I've had them do the standard "did you pack everything yourself?" questions and attempt to determine my eligibility to enter the destination country. I haven't yet encountered them in the behaviour screening role, though.

I actually think that's a better way to do it than what we usually have to go through.

I believe the Israel uses this technique as well.

I'm sorry she had a terrible experience. But the visa requirements are pretty clear, and she needed a standard visa.

Here's the "do you need a visa" website. https://www.gov.uk/check-uk-visa

Walk through it. She's from the USA. She's travelling for work, academic or business. She's planning to stay less than six months.

Here's the result:https://www.gov.uk/check-uk-visa/y/usa/work/six_months_or_le...

    You don't need a visa for some business and academic visits, but you must get a visa to work in the UK.
    You may be able to come to the UK without a visa if you:

    are invited as an expert in your profession
    come for other business or academic activities

    If you’re invited as an expert

    You can stay in the UK for up to 1 month without a visa, but you can only be paid to do certain things, eg:

    give guest lectures at a higher education institution
    provide advocacy in legal proceedings
    take part in arts, entertainment or sporting activities

    Check the full list of what you can be paid to do - it’s the same as what you can do on a Permitted Paid Engagement visa.

    If you come for other business or academic activities
    You can stay in the UK for up to 6 months without a visa, but you can only do certain academic or business-related activities, eg:

    go to a conference, meeting or training
    take part in a specific sports-related event
    perform as an artist, entertainer or musician
    do academic research or accompany students on a study abroad programme

    Check the full list of what you can do - it’s the same as what you can do on a Standard Visitor visa.
Here's the permitted paid engagement visa: https://www.gov.uk/permitted-paid-engagement-visa

Here's the standard visa: https://www.gov.uk/standard-visitor-visa

She's an animation artist giving a talk about an web animation API, doesn't that fall under If you’re invited as an expert ...take part in arts, entertainment or sporting activities?

No. Permitted paid engagements are:

"An expert may give lectures in their subject area, if they have been invited by a UK Higher Education Institution; or a UK based research or arts organisation provided this does not amount to filling a teaching position for the host organisation."

"A professional artist, entertainer, musician or sports person may carry out an activity directly relating to their profession, if they have been invited by a creative (arts or entertainment) or sports organisation, agent or broadcaster based in the UK."

She doesn't qualify for either. The former because she wasn't invited by any UK institution, nor a Higher Education, Research, or Arts organisation. The latter because she is not a professional artist or entertainer, nor invited by arts or entertainment organisation, agent, or broadcaster based in the UK.

I have to say, the rules are fairly straightforward. I followed the application process online as if I was her, and it's really quite obvious that she'd need to apply for a visa. It tells you to check the list of what you're allowed to be paid for, and what I quoted above is what it says.

Her blog post can be summed up as:

1. Was refused entry to UK because I didn't have the right docs. Will make damn sure I have the right documentation next time!

2. Go back. Oh shoot, I didn't have the right docs this time either.

3. British border control doesn't treat you too nicely when you show up again without the proper visa. Poor me.

4. Well then, I'm never going back. huff

You'd have to ask the government if the conference is a qualifying arts activity (maybe they consider it something else).

The requirements don't make a lot of sense to me, but it is clear enough that obtaining the visa beforehand, just to be sure, is the path of least resistance (and the conference should probably take the lead in figuring it out).

That site seems fairly clear. Where was the site that the author posted a photo from?

It seemed to be less informative. Are there two conflicting sites maintained by the government?

The same page, but note the "Last updated: 9 June 2016". The page has substantially changed since.

Here's the page from 2015: https://web.archive.org/web/20150912204350/https://www.gov.u...

It's not that different, and it's still pretty clear that she needs to investigate whether she needs a visa.

What a horrible story, but sadly not surprising to me anymore.

UK Border Control: a uniformly hostile and spiteful organisation.

I can't imagine a circumstance where I would be entering a country like the UK or US, and when asked what my visit was for, I would say anything except for "I'm on holiday". Being out of the ordinary is very dangerous.

That said people shouldn't be subjected to such unnecessary unpleastantness.

Speaking at a conference is not that out of the ordinary. You are more comfortable taking the risk of lying, so that you can appear like everyone else. The author was more comfortable being honest, so that she didn't risk being caught in a lie. I can't fault her for that. (Particularly since I'm confident I have said things like "I'm attending an academic conference" at multiple borders.)

Though you're kind of screwed when the guy behind you in line says "Hey Singletoned, I can't wait to see your talk tomorrow!", and immigration puts you through the same thing.. (or worse since you were clearly trying to deceive them.)

Because getting caught lying to these authorities would make for a much better outcome.

Deception to an immigration officer in an attempt to obtain leave to enter (regardless of whether it was successful or not) can result in a one-year ban from (re-)entry to the UK. Deception on a visa application can result in a ten-year ban from (re-)entry to the UK.

If the travel is in the other direction, entering the USA, the penalty for "misrepresentation" is a lifetime bar.

Yes, there are potentially waivers available, but lying to border agents -- and getting caught -- can make your future travel plans range from very difficult to impossible.

Even when I came to the US to move there on a valid working visa I told them I was on holiday. I was too afraid to say otherwise. They were skeptical, had to defend myself to 3 different agents. I'm pretty sure they knew I was lying, but lying to authority is something you do by default to not look suspicious. I told them I was on holiday to see the city, and to look at neighborhoods to live in.

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