Coming Up for Air

Hi folks,

I am currently back in the UK and trying to sort out the various disasters that have been caused by my being unable to enter the USA. It is a long job, but I think I’m through all the important email now so here’s a status update.

1. Thank you so much for all of the messages of support.

2. Contrary to much of the speculation, this has little to do with anti-terror legislation and the like. It has been caused mainly by the fact that US immigration is the provenance of two separate government organizations — the State Department and Customs & Border Patrol — and in my case they don’t appear to have communicated very well.

3. As I result I appear to have inadvertently contravened the regulations, and therefore I will never again be able to use the visa waiver program. Nothing can be done about this.

4. The chances of my getting a visa are approximately equal to my chances of winning a lottery, because at my age, with my job skills, being able to invest a substantial amount of money in the US is the only way I am likely to get a visa. Just like any other country, the US grants visas to people who will be good for their economy, not for other reasons.

5. I would like to thank the two CBP officers who dealt with my case. They were particularly understanding, and it can’t have been easy for them to deal with someone who was in floods of tears much of the time. They are not to blame for this mess – they had no choice but to deport me.

6. Online outrage, letter writing campaigns and the like will not have any positive effect on my situation, so please don’t waste your time and energy.

7. The knock-on effect of this is unclear, but judging from the scowl and furious typing that greeted my arrival at passport control in the UK my status as an international criminal is already attached to my passport number and winging its way around the world. I don’t think this will stop me traveling in Europe, but it may mean that I am unable to visit New Zealand or Australia without a full-blown visa, which will make the Worldcon trip vastly more expensive and complicated.

8. Various people have been asking what they can do to help. As far as the US stuff goes, unless you happen to have the President’s private phone number there’s probably nothing you can do. However, I am currently homeless. I have places I can go in the short term, but I do need a long-term fix for this so recommendations as to places to live in the UK would be appreciated. The chances are I will be unable to rent anywhere in my own right. I am also going to need help with various sfnal projects that I have underway and will now be unable to run as effectively because I can’t travel, but that’s a subject for another post.

Update: I now have somewhere to stay for the next week, which is a big relief. I can now start looking at a more long-term solution.

Also please note that I don’t need money. Or rather, I need money in much larger quantities than you kind folks could possibly supply, so I’m not asking for anything other than suggestions as to where I can rent crash space.

90 thoughts on “Coming Up for Air

  1. Oh, good grief, it’s worse than just disappointment at missing you at ICFA–I didn’t realize about the visa waiver and permanent repercussions.

    Well, if there’s anything I can do, you know where I am.


  2. Much sympathy on your entry problems with the USA (and potential future problems elsewhere).
    I gave up on visiting the USA a fair few years ago (very reluctantly), and it was almost entirely due to TSA actions. As a tourist, I did not appreciate being treated as a criminal. The only action that seemed appropriate was to boycott US visits. Since many of my friends live in the USA, I am very unhappy with the decision I took.

  3. I don’t understand how visas work getting into the US, but I am very, very sad on your behalf.

    I wish I understood, so I could help more. It baffles me beyond belief. =(

  4. I’m so sorry this happened to you. It makes me angry that the U.S. is so unwelcoming. It would be even more outrageous if this affected your travel between the UK and other (non-US) parts of the world.

  5. Cheryl, very sorry to hear about this.

    I would think you should still be able to apply for apply for a holiday visa. I know one person who was in a very similar situation (accidentally entered on WVP on way to an IT conference, which US Immigration considered to be working and not eligible for WVP). He successfully applied for a tourist visa. The main criteria he needed to show were stable job and residence. Sadly he has since passed away and is unable to offer advice.

    1. Well attending an IT conference is well within the terms of the VWP, so that sounds like a fairly egregious error. You can use it for short term business trips. It would only be “working” if he was being paid to help run he event.

      The tourist visa is a potential option but it is a one-shot, you have to re-apply each trip. That’s really expensive, and they probably won’t approve more than one every few years. Also, attending conferences is not “tourism”, it is “business”.

      1. Just to note that a full tourist visa (whilst an enormous faff to get, involving as it does actually showing up to the US Embassy) can be multi-entry (not just one-shot), so that might be worth going for. I had to get a full visa last year as I was travelling to the US on a non-approved carrier (by cargo freighter!), & mine is 10-yr multi-entry.

        Having broken the terms of the VWP might make this more difficult; depends on the details &/or whether you can get any backup, I suspect. (A friend with a caution on their record was only able to get a single-entry business visa with backing from their company & would probably not have got a tourist visa at all; accidental visa screwups they may be more forgiving of.)

        1. I’ve been thinking about this, and the trouble is that the CBP considers attendance at a convention to be “business”, even if you are not paid for it. If all I had was a tourist visa I can quite see me being denied entry because the purpose of my visit was not in line with the type of visa I have.

          1. Cheryl,
            Out of curiosity, would this also apply to visiting another country for the purposes of giving a presentation at an academic conference? I’m doing just that in the UK in July, and you’ve got me worried…

          2. Every country is different. (And in the US you’ll get a different answer depending on whether you speak to CBP or State). The thing to remember is that the regulations are there to allow people to kick you out easily *if they want to*. If you have never given them any trouble and don’t appear suspicious you’ll be fine. If you have been in trouble with them before you are screwed, because they can always find something to get you on.

          3. I’ve been to England a couple times, just always for clearly tourist purposes. Never had any problems (I’ve been given nasty stares because I didn’t have hotel information before).

            Thanks for the info. I appreciate it.

          4. For some reason I don’t think we are, but looking back, I have no basis for believing that.

            The conference I’m attending is called What Happens Now: 21st Century Writing in English (the first decade). It’s being held at the University of Lincoln. Is that the one he’s going to?

          5. Ah, well, at least we’re all spreading the love, right? Hopefully I can pull together a strong presentation. I’m dealing with an enormous topic. I probably should have narrowed it a little more. So be it.

        2. I went to the UK last fall to present a paper at an academic conference, and I told them it was business. They were fine with that when I explained that I was not earning any income in the UK, just doing what was basically a marketing and promotion thing.

          1. Well, yes, that was entering the UK, not entering the USA. Different people, different agencies, and far different attitudes. Near as I can make it out, the US CBP really wishes that nobody would ever cross a border either direction, so we could be very “secure.” Actually allowing anyone to enter is a nuisance to them.

  6. Cheryl: Is there a typo in the last sentence that says, “I’m now asking for anything other than suggestions as to where I can rent crash space”? Should that read “I’m not asking …” or am I misinterpreting it?

  7. I was in your exact same situation a couple of years ago, having found my life’s centre in San Francisco, and realizing that there was no way for me to live there legally. In my case it went away for different reasons, but I can still imagine all too vividly what you must be going through. I admire the way you are dealing with it.

  8. This is terrible – I’ve just heard about it through Locus. If you end up looking for a place in Central Scotland, there are plenty of us up here who could help out.

  9. Ouch! I can’t begin to imagine how you must be feeling right now.

    Personally I find that life tends to balance out with good and bad…. and right now I’d say you were due to win the euro-millions lottery as a minimum!

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