Saturday, February 03, 2007

Geekman and immigration

As we were queuing for passport control on the way out of Australia a couple of weeks ago:

Geekman: "You know something funny? Last time I was here they nearly didn't let me through. They said there was something wrong with the way my visa had been transferred to my new passport."

Me: "So what happened?"

Geekman: "Well, it was okay, because I had my old passport with me, and so they inspected the original visa and let me go."

Me: "You did bring your old passport this time, then, didn't you?"

Geekman: "That's the funny thing. I totally forgot."

Minutes spent at passport control: 10
Number of times it looked like they wouldn't let us past: 2*
Number of times I almost ended up crying: 3


At passport control coming back into Australia on Monday. For various complicated reasons, Geekman had a new visa that he had applied for back in December but had just kicked in the day before.

Immigration guy: "This is weird..."

Us, suspicious: "What is it this time?"

Immigration guy: "Hah! He doesn't have a gender". [To Geekman] "Are you some sort of hermaphrodite?"

Geekman: "Wha—"

Immigration guy to a supervisor in the background: "Hey, come look at this! Where it says 'gender' on this visa, there's just a dash. Is this a problem or do I let him through?"

Supervisor: "I don't think you can let him through with the visa like that..."

Seven or eight other immigration people appear out of nowhere and cluster round the desk, exclaiming at the genderless freak. They discuss the problem for a few minutes, then one of them turns to Geekman:

"Please come with me, sir."

I panic, with thoughts of Geekman being deported to Sweden, or taken away to one of the Australian desert detention centres**. The immigration people tell me to go on and collect my bags and that they'll send Geekman to join me when they have sorted out his problem (through gender-assignment surgery?)

Fortunately he did turn up not long afterwards, corrected visa in hand, and not even having had to prove his masculinity. But it was not exactly a reassuring experience.***

Do you have any travel horror stories to rival these, or is Geekman just uniquely unlucky?


* "This looks fine. Oh, wait a second—" then five minutes later, "Okay, it's not really a big problem, but you are going to have to go back and talk to the immigration people over there. They'll probably still let you fly."

** Do read that link. It's quite horrifying.

It even almost beats the time he was detained trying to return to the UK (where he was living and working at the time), was told he wasn't eligible to enter the country, and questioned for ages until the immigration person realised his passport said "Sweden" and not "Sudan".


sam said...

My housemate was flying to Europe from the US. When he got to the airport in the morning, they told him he couldn't go because his passport was going to expire in one month ... in the FUTURE. But, for some reason, you need a passport that won't expire too close to when you fly. I don't know why they don't just change the expiration date?

A couple months later (with a new passport), he was back in Europe on a cycling trip. When flying back to the US, he left his biking shoes in his checked luggage because they were unconfortable. He got though all the security screening barefoot and onto the plane. Before takeoff, a flight attendant told him they couldn't take off if he didn't have shoes on. (I doubt that's a true rule.) But they couldn't take his shoes out of his luggage because it was already checked and you can't bring checked items into the main cabin. Eventually, another attendant let him borrow her size 6 women's sandals. That was legit, supposedly, so they took off.

StyleyGeek said...

Wow, that would suck. It is true that your passport has to be valid for 6 months after your trip. I think it's to stop people getting screwed if they are delayed coming back, e.g. if you were hit by a car and in hospital overseas until after your passport expired. But it's a stupid rule anyway.

I was on a plane to Indonesia once and the man next to me and his six year old son got refused entry (and sent right back to NZ at their own expense) because the kid's passport only had 5 months left on it. The worst thing was they were travelling out to have a holiday with the man's wife and kid's mother who was on a temporary work thing there. They hadn't seen her in a couple of months and she was just behind the immigration desk waving to them, and they never even got to give her a hug before they were sent back.

The shoes thing is really weird.

ZaPaper said...

My former roommate was flying out of crappy southern state and encountered an airport security guard who tried to bully him. My roommate is not a violent guy but he has his masculine dignity. Apparently he didn't do anything, though, except refuse to cower. But the security guard got him charged with assault, and because the judge was a former army buddy of the security guy, managed to make the charge stick to the point where my roommate actually had to go on trial for it. What a mess. He was acquitted, though, due to the testimony of a police officer who saw the whole thing. Whatever man. But what a drag.

Lucy said...

I'm sorry you had problems getting through.
I always get hassled flying into the UK, but only when arriving at terminals that take flights from Australia/NZ. They're always very concerned about whether I have money and when exactly I'll be leaving again.
I always expect to be hassled entering the US, but I've never had any problems.
A (very sweet, tiny) Indonesian muslim woman in my old lab got questioned for 2 hours and told the FBI would be keeping tabs on her while she was in the US for a conference, though.
The first time I flew overseas, the travel agent had spelt my name wrongly (an added letter that is also a common spelling, despite me telling her the correct spelling multiple times) and the person at check in in my hometown got me paranoid about getting turned back at every stop, but she was the only one who ever noticed.

Caspar Peucer said...

Sometimes, you think security is synonymous with paranoia, then you realize that it's most probably more akin to incompetence: you can't possibly control everything, so there are millions of reasons to freak out about inane details.

As a kid, I remember I had to travel from Mexico to France with a stop in the US. As I arrived in Dallas (or some city of that ilk), my friend and I were supposed to change planes. I didn't know we had to change terminals too, so we showed up at the Air France counter, even though we were flying Continental, showed our passports, and got on the plane and arrived in Paris. The bags didn't make it though, and the people who were supposed to pick us up were nowhere to be found. A few hours later, we realized... that we had taken the wrong plane. We were supposed to arrive two hours later, with another carrier. Our bags arrived safely with our real flight.

I also remember my mother telling us the story of when she arrived in Paris (again, from Mexico), with my kid sister and I. I was 5. My mother, who's French, didn't think she needed a visa for my sister, who was born in Mexico, nor one for me. The immigration officer was explaining to my mother that we were not allowed to enter France. Then his supervisor got a look of my Mexican passport and said, 'But look! He was born in [someplace in the suburbs of Paris]! Let them in, don't be ridiculous.'

StyleyGeek said...

Oh my god, you guys have made me even more paranoid about flying now :)

And caspar's comment made me laugh.

Lucy, I also expected to have trouble entering the US, but the two times I've done it it has been pretty smooth. Last time was the trickiest and that was only because the guy asked me the purpose of my visit, and I said it was for a linguistics conference. So then he asked me how many languages I speak (I HATE that question), and when I told him an approximate number, he demanded I prove it and say something in each one!

Ianqui said...

styley--re: your last comment, that's SO American (not to ask in general, but to bother a foreigner in the customs line in that way)! But I think he was being good natured, at least.

Let's see, should I launch into my long bad story? I'll make it short. In 2000, I flew to Amsterdam for a conference. On the way back, I checked in, and minutes before we were to take off, my ticket and passport were stolen, right there in the airport. I went to the police, got a report, IN DUTCH, and the nice people at KLM let me on the plane. So far so good. Then, we started taxi-ing on the runway, and an engine blew out. Somehow, I ended up being one of the last people onto the line to rebook flights, and ended up not only having to go out the next day, but they'd also run out of hotel vouchers. AND, I could only fly a KLM flight because they were the only one who'd verified that I'd had a passport and ticket at one point. That night I slept on the floor in the airport.

Next morning, I got on the flight, but was worried about entering the US, what with NO PASSPORT and a police report IN DUTCH. Yet, all the immigration dude said to me was, "Welcome home."

Damn. Can you imagine that happening in the US post 9/11?

StyleyGeek said...

Oh Ianqui, that's an amazing story. I've always wondered what to do if your passport gets stolen that close to when you are meant to fly.

I once packed my passport in my luggage which was checked all the way from Wellington (domestic) through Auckland (international) to London. It was only in Auckland that I realised (when I got to the customs queue). The nice airline people let me go into the bowels of the aircraft and hunt for my luggage.

Badaunt said...

The only horror story I have is of when I was flying back to Japan from NZ via Australia via Singapore via Bangkok via Hong Kong. (I'd done the trip TO NZ very slowly, over three months, and had a ball. Going back was pure hell.)

In Sydney I had to stay overnight, and when I opened my bag discovered that a new bottle of shampoo had exploded. Not only that, I'd packed badly, and left my washing and so on to do when I got back to Japan, so there was an unholy mess in there. I tried to clean things up in the hotel room (another story entirely, involving LOTS AND LOTS OF BUBBLES), but gave up and shoved everything back into the bag any old way. Now, of course, it was wet as well as sticky and dirty.

Imagine my horror upon arriving in Hong Kong, finally, and going through customs and discovering that every single person on my flight was getting their bags searched very, very thoroughly. Maybe they'd had a tipoff or something. I loitered a lot, hoping they'd find whatever it was before getting to me, and finally had to concede defeat. Got to the counter, told the (very sweet) young guy, "You really, REALLY do not want to do this."

I explained what had happened. He laughed and shrugged and told me he had to - they had orders.

I had to stand there and watch him trying to unpeel dirty, tacky, wet underwear from other items of clothing, and so on through the entire bag. The shampoo had got into everything. It was an excrutiatingly embarrassing experience.

I had NEVER had my bag searched before. Murphy's Law, eh?

Also, btw, I haven't clicked the link about the Australian detention centres yet, but a while ago I read Greg Egan's essay about them. Heartrending and horrific. I do not understand why it doesn't get more publicity, or cause more outrage.

PJGoober said...

The US seriously needs to focus on helping the immigrants we already have before we import millions more. If to do that we have inconvienance a few australians then too bad, the welfare of the immigrants we already have are more important than 1 hour of your time. They NEED help. But money to help the less fortunate is finite (progressive policies do not change that fundamental finiteness). We can choose to have a big hispanic population that we have at least half a chance in hell of uplifting, or a gigantic hispanic population with far less of a chance of ever getting out of the underclass:

“Longest, Largest” study of the children of immigrants yet conducted, by Alejandro Portes of Princeton and Ruben Rumbaut of UC Irvine:

“Differences in arrest and incarceration rates are also noteworthy, particularly among second-generation, U.S.-born, males. While only 10 percent of second-generation immigrant males in the survey had been incarcerated, that figure jumped to 20 percent among West Indian and Mexican American youths.”

“The researchers found that children of Laotian and Cambodian Americans as well as Haitian Americans had the lowest median annual household income at just over $25,000. They were followed closely by Mexican American families, which had a median annual household income of about $30,000. On the other end of the spectrum, children of upper-middle-class Cuban exiles in Southern Florida reported a household income of more than $70,000, and Filipino Americans in Southern California had more than $64,000, followed by Chinese immigrants.”

Also, see this:
“Coming US Challenge: A Less Literate Workforce”

"The three factors identified are: a shifting labor market increasingly rewarding education and skills, a changing demographic that include a rapid-growing Hispanic population, and a yawning achievement gap, particularly along racial and socioeconomic lines, when it comes to reading and math.

The individual trends have been identified before, but this study makes an effort to examine their combined effects, and to project a disturbing future, including a sharply declining middle class in addition to the lost ground in literacy.

"We have the possibility of transforming the American dream into the American tragedy," says Irwin Kirsch, a senior research director at ETS and the lead author of the study."

PJGoober said...

"...My former roommate was flying out of crappy southern state"

Don't be disrespectful. I doubt you would call any majority non-white place crappy without thinking twice about your PC sensibilities. Please extend the fucking favor to southern US states. God Bless America and fuck bigots likes you.

StyleyGeek said...

Badaunt, I had a similar experience with exploded HONEY. Only discovered when my bag was searched at customs. Customs guy: "Um. Your clothes are kind of sticky..."

Pjgoober, before you start telling my commentators to be more respectful, I suggest you try learning the meaning of the word yourself. Any more comments with the intellectual depth of "fuck bigots like you" and you'll find yourself banned here.

And as for your first comment, I suggest you try reading the post and comments before commenting. I have absolutely no idea what you are referring to with your spiel about US illegal immigration and inconvenience to Australians. That has nothing to do with anything in this thread.