Welcome to the United Kingdom, Now Get the Hell Out!

Guest Post by Garret Hall

Immigration officials have a thankless job.  Day in and day out, they are responsible for protecting a sovereign nation's borders and in doing so, directly protect those citizens who reside in that nation.   They do this with little appreciation and fanfare, and yet, their job is vital to the well being and integrity of all countries.  I cannot begin to imagine some of the methods used by travelers throughout the major international airports in order to illegally gain access into a country.  Immigration officials must see attempts at ill conceived plans on a near daily basis and, understandably so, probably tire of them quickly.  Aside from thwarting illegal attempts, immigration officials must also deal with those passengers who are trying to enter a country legally, but are not the easiest of people to get along with.  After what could have been a ten, twelve, or fifteen hour flight, the last thing a passenger wants to deal with is an immigration official simply doing his or her job: protecting their nation’s borders from those who wish to enter for less than benevolent reasons. 

It is in this context and for this reason that I deal with immigration officials as politely as I can after being on a flight that most likely lasted no less than five or six hours.  They are simply performing a necessary service, and in my past experience, if you treat them with respect, they will do the same towards you.  There is no need to make a tedious experience even worse for either myself or the immigration officer by having either party be antagonistic.  Up until two months ago, this policy had served me well, that was until I traveled to and from the UK in October, for what I thought would be a simple flight transfer. 

My friend and I were returning on a weekend trip from Amsterdam, and upon re-entry into the UK, where I would stay for a two week period, I would fly home to Washington, DC for the Thanksgiving holiday.  Upon arrival my friend and I proceeded to customs, where my ordeal was to begin.  The immigration officer that greeted me at the customs desk was less than cordial, but it being a Sunday afternoon, he was probably worn out and simply wanted to be home with his family.  After being asked the standard questions asked by all immigration officers around the world, I was found to be a person of interest to UK Immigration for a myriad of reasons, which I will not delve into (for my own sense of justification however, I will state that none of the reasons were, as far as I am concerned legitimate enough to refuse entry).  Border460

It was at this point which every official from there on out that I dealt with treated me as if I was guilty until proven innocent.  Under UK immigration laws I had done nothing wrong: I was planning on staying in the UK for under 3 months, meaning I needed no documentation other than my passport, and I had performed no work within the UK since I had been traveling and staying there.  In every way, shape and form I had done nothing wrong as British immigration laws are written and yet I was treated as if I had been trying to enter the UK whilst being listed on a terrorism watch list.  When I asked if I could be allowed internet access so that I may provide officials with all the information they wanted from me I was promptly denied with the excuse being, “It’s not their problem that I do not carry the necessary documents on my person.”  These documents, which ranged from financial records to written letters from people I may be staying with during my stay in the UK are papers which no normal traveler has on them in any given moment.

Apparently to these officials it mattered not that I was a recent college graduate who was obviously just traveling around Europe during the one time in my life that such a trip would be possible.  And while I generally dislike the idea of playing the American “get out of jail free card,” it was rather shocking to have what most experts agree is our closest ally treat an American citizen so poorly.  After enduring a night full of condescending retorts to my responses and brush away answers such as “someone will look into that for you,” the idea of going back to Britain within the near future is quite unpalatable to me.  While I will never know firsthand what the treatment of foreign travelers is like from American immigration officers, I can only hope that upon landing into the United States travelers are met with a certain level of respect and courtesy that the five or six British immigration officials I dealt with sorely lacked.               

6 thoughts on “Welcome to the United Kingdom, Now Get the Hell Out!

  1. All:
    Garret, for reasons beyond my comprehension, failed to mention that he was put in immigration prison overnight. He shared his cell with people who were flagged as terrorist suspects. An American citizen who did absolutely nothing wrong (other than enjoying a weekend in Amsterdam)was shacked up with Osama Bin Laden Jr. Even the Aussies should be able to understand that there is something wrong with that.

  2. Interesting post, Biffo. I’ll leave it to Garret to respond, but did want to second your nomination of “Fawlty Towers.” It’s one of the great, all-time comedies. Cleese was built for that role. And, I loved Polly and Manuel, too.

  3. Well, it would seem that Immigration officials are a breed unto themselves. As a dual citizen, Brit and US, I have received two distinct welcomes when entering either countries depending on which passport I produce. Showing my Brit passport in London when arriving is certainly alot more friendly than the times I’ve used my US passport when travelling with my kids. When returning to the US showing my US passport usually illicits a welcome back, but not so when showing my homeland passport. Also, when going through INS here to become a citizen was the most patronizing and demeaning experience – and I’m an English-speaking Caucasian. I couldn’t get out of that Federal building fast enough. Sorry you had such a crappy experience.

  4. As my Aussie brethren would say “Stop bloody wingeing Yank !!”. You have the gold medal standing for complaining and you should take out citizenship of any other nation in the world and try strolling through US immigration.
    Even pre-911 my Pan Am flight into JFK (shows some aging I know) I was retained for 7 hours thinking I wish someone would hurry up and invent a laptop so I could show some holiday snaps or play some Indie Rock to my captors.
    I was once a man without a home on the bridge at Niagara Falls as my Canadian visa had expired and my green card was not active( non of which I was made privy to). I thought I was going to be swapped for a toothless Canadian hockey goon on the bridge.Although I must add that US immigration actually gave my green card back to me.Kudos to them
    If you want to look at the American complainer please search for the “Waldorf Slad ” episode of Fawlty Towers.
    Just as an aside, what were you doing in Amsterdam? An Ajax soccer game, buying tulips or taking in the Van Gogh museum?
    Just wondering.HMMMM

  5. Lunchboy is correct that I’m not a fan of immigration agents. That said, Garret is only telling one small part of his story. The full tale has some elements of Midnight Express.

  6. is Repman paying you to further his cause against immigration folks? Sure seems that way.
    Of course those officials wouldn’t care that you are a young buck having fun in their country. Especially when you consider they were probably never so privledged!
    Congrats on graduating, stop complaining and get to work, Garret.