One of the more “interesting” aspects of the USA’s visa waiver scheme is that entry is not guaranteed. Even if you have done nothing wrong according to the posted rules of the scheme, any immigration official can turn you back for any reason whatsoever. Indeed, no reason need be given, and there is to recourse. That’s just the way it is. You can probably guess what is coming.
Well, yesterday I was told at immigration that while my frequent comings and goings were in accordance with the rules of the scheme, they constituted an “abuse of the system”, and that if I wanted to enter the USA again for more than the odd few days at a time then I would have to get a visa. I have been let in this time, but my chances of coming back are not good.
I will, of course, be investing a few hundred dollars in advice from an immigration lawyer as soon as I can get an appointment. However, visas are not something that get handed out like Halloween candy to anyone who asks for one. In order to get one, you have to present a good case as to why you need one, any why it is to the economic advantage of the USA to give you one. And there simply isn’t a class of visa that I would be able to make such a case for. Even then, you are still subject to an interview, and you can have your visa denied because someone didn’t like the look of your face. My chances of getting a visa are therefore close to zero.
So what does this mean? Well, first of all it means no World Fantasy Con. Because I now have a black mark on my immigration record, there is a very good chance (probably > 50%) that if I went to Calgary I would not be let back in, and that would then put an even bigger black mark on my record and probably prevent me from ever coming back. It simply isn’t worth the risk. Kevin has told me that he won’t go if I’m not going, so we have 2 memberships, a hotel room and some banquet tickets available. (And this is very annoying because the wonderful Calgary people had put me on a panel with Jay Lake and Minister Faust, which would have been huge fun, not to mention I won’t be able to live-blog the awards.)
It also means that it would be very inadvisable for me to try to attend any conventions in the US next year. Not that I was planning on a lot, but it does mean no ICFA and no World Fantasy.
Longer term I simply don’t know. If I only try to come in and out for conventions then I might be OK, but equally I could be denied entry the first time I show my face here in 2010. There is no way of knowing. And of course not being able to come here will have all sorts of other knock-on effects, some of which may mean that I can’t afford to travel even if I am allowed to.
Right now I am treating this as if I have been diagnosed with an incurable disease. I know I’m OK until early January. Beyond that what will happen with my life is very unclear. In particular I cannot guarantee to be able to do anything beyond that point, and I will be unwinding any commitments I have made beyond that horizon.
I am closing comments on this post because there really isn’t anything anyone can do, and I’m afraid I just can’t face having to do lots of “thanks for you idea, but…” responses. If I have promised to do something for you, either at World Fantasy, or in a time period extending beyond early January, and I haven’t yet written to you, please email me.