Thursday, July 1, 2010

Immigration Control

Traveling internationally has its benefits, but there are some drawbacks, including jet lag, different wall sockets for electrical appliances, and credit card transaction fees.  It's all part of international traveling.

I am always amused when passing through immigration.  Every country has its own unique style of immigration control.  It's not even uniform in the European Union countries.  For example, when I enter the EU through France, the Immigration Officer usually gives my passport a cursory look and away I go.  If I enter through Germany, there's a more detailed inspection.  The Immigration Officer usually looks at the passport to see how many days I have been in the EU, to make sure I haven't exceeded the time limit (three months at a stretch and six months within a year).  Generally, it's an easy process.

Entering Great Britain and Canada is an entirely different story.  They carefully scrutinize the passport and ask the standard, albeit, stupid questions.  For example, when I entered the UK from Germany, a few weeks ago, the Immigration Officer asked me the following questions:

  • How long would I be in the country? (5 days).
  • What was the purpose of my visit to the UK?  (Pleasure).
  • What kind of pleasure?  (Well, site seeing).
  • What kind of site seeing? (Well, the usual, museums, theater, monuments, etc.)  (I was tempted to say:  "Well, I hear there are a lot of good brothels in the UK."  But I didn't.)
A few years back, I was entering Canada for a five week vacation.  The Immigration Officer was surprised by my long visit.  She asked me why I was planning to stay for such a long time in Canada.  I was completely surprised by the question and answered: "Didn't she think her country was worth a five week visit?"  She let me pass without a further question.

I wonder what it's like for foreigners entering the US.  I've heard some unpleasant stories.  What is it about English speaking countries and their immigration control policies?

Things have changed a lot.  In the early 1980s, I backpacked across Canada from coast to coast. It took four months.  There was no need for a passport.  I just provided a drivers license and entered freely.

I know the Immigration Officer is trying to ensure the safety of their country.  But seriously, I don't fit the profile of a potentially dangerous person.  I am a middle aged professional (lawyer) from the USA without a criminal record or any Islamic connections.  I suggest: streamline the process, and target those people most likely to pose a real risk. Let's save the taxpayer some money.

BTW:

I heard on the BBC World Service, the story of a young American girl being placed on the "Do Not Fly" list by mistake. Six year old Alissa Thomas was put on the list, and her parents have been trying in vain to get her off.  Apparently, once placed on the list, there is no way to get off. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) can provide a security code to people erroneously placed on the list.  Those impacted people can provide the code to airport security and it should allow them to board a plane.  However, DHS cannot guarantee this will solve the problem the next time Alissa tries to travel.  It seems so Kafkaesque. There is a reason people fear big government.

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