Tuesday, January 27, 2004

a warm welcome 

I wasn’t going to post this, because it left me feeling deeply paranoid and upset, but what the hell. I knew I was likely to get a few questions at Immigration; when I had my visa interview in London the (very helpful and polite) lady warned me as such. She advised me to take all the paperwork I showed her with me, viz: a list of contacts and letters of invitation; proof of residence and family and other ties in the UK; personal and professional references; bank statements and proof of financial solvency (hah!); a central contact in the USA; and an itinerary (of course I want to see which way the wind blows me but I concocted one anyway)

Anyhow, I stood in line for a little while; almost everybody was asked some questions about where they were staying and what they were doing. I wasn’t too concerned; I knew I was a lot more organised than the majority of the people in front of me and I knew Kellie was waiting for me in arrivals. Plus of course, I have a valid passport, no criminal record, and a 12 month visa which cost a lot of time, effort and $75.

I knew that I would have to have my fingerprints and photograph taken because of my visa; I remained pretty sanguine. In no way did I find this offensive or paranoia inducing; I had no fears about my civil liberties at all. I was a little surprised to be asked into a side room for secondary processing, but of course I was delighted to be invited to answer a few questions. I believe this makes me a ‘person of interest’ I would have been happier if there was water or toilet facilities available in the very hot and very crowded room, or if Kellie could have been told she would have to wait two and a half hours for me.

Eventually I was called to a desk – I was one of the last people on my flight to be seen, it was pretty interesting watching and listening to the others – the man who dealt with me was very brusque and effecient. I felt like a little child who is getting into trouble for something they know they didn’t do but lacks the power or the words to challenge the teacher. I kept remarkably polite and calm – no swearing or anything and I even resisted the urge to put on a sitcom voice and say “but I’m English!” He kept on and on asking me questions, trying to trip me up; he kept coming back to why I did not have a return ticket; he had an obsession with making me give him a precise return date. He had no interest in seeing my paper work and apparently flexible travel plans are bad. I also got a stern ticking of for still having my last visa waiver form stapled into my passport.. I was feeling tired and confused; I’m still not quite sure why but my visa has been revoked and I have to vacate the country by the 15th May.

The welcome here was so delightful the very first thing I did was struggle not to cry and turn right around; luckily Kellie saved the day by whisking me off for quesa and refried beans. I’m just glad to be here now.


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