Friday, June 19, 2009

Difficulties at US Border Control

Just when I was getting ready to do the final preparations for my travel, checking emails for the last time before closing the browser, I got an email from, where I had registered our Leeds Met Caedmon Webcam: the camera status was inactive. And indeed, when I checked, there was only the image from Tuesday morning there...

This meant that after one hour of sleep and before driving to the airport, I had to stop at the Uni campus to fix this - otherwise the image would not be updated for the duration of my absence. The guards let me in at 3:00 am... and I was able to fix the problem. For some reason I had forgotten to check the "send image to ftp server" check box...

I had a nap on the flight from LBA to AMS, then again at the AMS airport in one of those comfortable sleeper chairs that are in the upstairs lounges.

Since ages I always made a stop in AMS at the food bar between the gates D and E: that is the only one which serves a delicious hering roll with frehsly cut onions over it - a delight especially for the seat neighbours in the plane (keeps them at a respectable distance). And with it I always had ordered a DeKoninck beer, that looked so nicely amber and tasted great. They were the only bar that had this beer, fresh from a tap. But now they did not have anymore this beer, but only the omnipresent Heineken (which is also ok, but that one can get anywhere).

Boarding went ok. Due to the new ESTA regulations which require getting advanced approval for entry into the US, they had abolished the individual interviews which had been conducted with each passenger before boarding; that was what still was done 3 years ago when I travelled to the US last time. The flight took ok at the scheduled time.

I had again a nap to catch up on some of the lost sleep, especially since I also would have a 3 hour car drive ahead of me after arrival. But I also could not resiost browsing the nice on-demand video selection. Watched "The Reader" - excellent film! Wanted to watch "Slumdog Millionaire", but then was too tired.

After arrivel I already expected trouble with my entry: my Green Card which I had since a long time, was formally still valid for a few years. But I knew that there was the regulation that one must not remain for more than one year outside of the US. Well, my last entry into the US had been 3 years ago, and I was not quite sure how to handle this now. Just in case I also had filled out the regular green entry form for visa waiver and have gotten the ESTA approval. When I showed my green card at the Border Control, the officer told me to go into an office to clarify. There I waited, with a few other unlucky souls whose entry status was unclear. AFter 15 minutes the officer sent me away to another office. Again a 20 minutes wait. Then I am called to discuss the situation, and I tell them everything. They send me back again into the first office. Another waiting. Then the officer there calls me. They do have on their computer screen all my data: when I have entered the US, stayed there, paid taxes, just everything. And they explain that the green card is not a replacement for an entry visa. What I should have done after staying out from the US for more than one year: gone to the US embassy in London and gotten a new entry permit. Well, I did now only want to stay for a few days, and I explain to them that I also was already prepared for "the other route", through the regular visitor visa waiver program. But there is just this bureaucratic problem that I do have this green card, and this actually requires me to relinquish the green card after it basically has lost its validity. Another waiting, the officer discusses in a separate room with her superior. Then she comes out, but deals with another case. There appears to be a bit of psychological pressure being applied... but I remain calm and smiling, have nothing to loose. Then she calls me and tells me "we are going to do something very nice to you". And she explains that they let me in now, on the basis of my green card. But when I am back in UK, I will have to go to the embassy and relinquish this card. Ok, sounds fine to me. So no ESTA, no I-94 visa waiver form, the officer puts the stamp onto the blue custom form, and off I am to the last control, the customs officer. The whole procedure took 1 1/2 hours.

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