Thursday, March 25, 2010

Visa Please Part II

Now where were we? Oh right...Gatwick airport November 1993, I forget the exact date it was a long time ago which is a bit of a problem since the embassy wants to know EXACTLY when this all happened.
So on the plane, it was a night flight and if I remember correctly London to Houston is a ten hour flight. Was pretty calm, ate my meals, watched the movies – back then though you had to crane your neck to view the TV screen since it was before they started putting games and TV’s in the back of the chairs. I still thought it was all great stuff though. This flying lark was still new. The novelty was yet to wear off. I was just 18years old.
Once we landed the butterflies came back. On the plane they handed out the immigration cards and you know there is a box that says ‘Have you ever been denied a VISA or entry to The United States of America’ well I had. So I ticked YES. You have to be honest right? I mean the passport had a black mark in it...it was like Blackbeards curse – I had been dealt the Black mark!
Exiting the plane walking down the ramp into the immigration hall was one of the most nerve-racking moments in my life, (there were more to come). I remember saying to my then ‘boyfriend’ which lane do you think looks the friendliest? Who do you think will be nice as Apple Pie? I wasn’t joking. I was seriously trying to assess which line would be the best to stand in. Ok ok ok, I already mentioned that I was naive. We were in the states – there was no ‘friendly’ line!
So finally it is my turn at the counter. I walk up pass them my passport and immigration card. They flick through the passport and don't see anything. The passport was quite new – lots of free pages and the black mark was located right at the back. So then he looks at the immigration card. All was going (to coin an American phrase) ‘swell’ until he reached the little blip about VISA denied. Eyebrows raise. Frowns. Hmmmn. Picks the passport back up. Looks again. This time looks properly. Ahhhh, there it is, there is the blip!
‘Could you please wait here,’ he says. And off he goes. He returns. ‘Could you please follow me,’ he says. And off I go. I am led away to an interview room. Well more like a waiting room with small ‘interview rooms’ attached. I sit down and I wait. I was scared stiff.
Time passes, my boyfriend was in the same boat as me, we didn’t speak. We had a friend meeting us from the airport. We were not allowed to even contact them to alert them to what was happening.
We were the only two people in the room. Off in one of the interview rooms there was another guy from our flight. He was being interrogated BIG TIME. Apparently he like us had just returned from the states and was back again. His girlfriend was here, so he said. We could hear everything that was being said...and the things that were being said did NOT do anything to calm my state of mind or nerves.
After we witnessed his head shot and fingerprints being taken the communication kind of went like this:
Immigration Officer (IO) ‘You are going back to London,’
Passenger (P) ‘But I don’t know anyone in London, I am from Germany,’
IO: You came from London you are going back to London.
P: But I do not know anybody there, I have no money, my money is here. Can I not make a phone call to my friend? She will explain. She is waiting for me. She will be worried.
IO: NO. You are going back.
(Now at this point the German passenger (innocent or not) continued to whine and beg and plead with the Immigration officers) I was starting to get REALLY worried about what was in store for me.
P: But please, just let me make a phone call, I cannot go back to London, I do not know anybody. Can you not send me to Germany?
IO: You came from London. You go back to London. If you do not want to go back tonight you will spend the night in county jail!
WELL, at those words I was now quaking in my bottle green doc Martins (Hey – I was an art student!)
Anyway Mr Germany was dismissed and the Officer came to the counter and began looking at our passports lying there. Please pick his first, please please, not me, Let him go first – I was saying over and over in my head.
IO: ‘Emma Bishop’ – Oh S***, My legs somehow worked and I stood up and walked to the counter. They questioned me, put the passport down and then called up my boyfriend.
They then took him away to a room and me to another room. After what seemed an age we met back up and were both ‘escorted’ to the luggage belt to identify our baggage. I was not photographed or fingerprinted – so I guess that was something. He on the other hand was interrogated, interviewed and basically treated like a criminal - which he was NOT.
Our luggage was going round the belt all alone. We picked it up and the female officer who was built the size of a brick ‘ahem’ house then led us back up the way we had come.
To sum up, we were led back to the plane we had flown in on a few hours earlier. They started to rush us. The plane was ready to take off and they were waiting for us. I do not know if the German guy made that flight or spent the night in lock up. As we walked to the plane the Officer had in her hand a large manila envelope. We got to the hatch and there was an attendant waiting to receive us. The flight was full and the passengers in those ‘emergency extra leg room seats’ were looking impatiently at us. The officer then passed the attendant the envelope. I had long since forgotten about the whereabouts of passports and such I just wanted the nightmare to end. To my surprise I had managed to hold it all together, thus far.
IO: ‘These are the two deportees. Here are their passports (hands over envelope). Do not hand them their passports until they are out of American Airspace.’
Well on hearing those words, I lost it. I finally buckled and the tears started to flow. The people in those front seats were now staring and you knew they were thinking – so what did you get caught for? To make things worse our seats were way way back at the rear of the plane. That was a long walk.
I sat down, and once the plane took off I cried myself to sleep. When I awoke we were back in Gatwick. By the time I got back home my mum and dad were to put it lightly, VERY surprised to see me. It had been a nightmare 30hours. I went to bed and did not budge for 24hours.
And that is why I have a phobia of all things related to immigration and why I have not returned to the states since. I have never had reason to go back until now. I can actually laugh at what happened. At the time it seemed like the most terrible thing in my life. But it was an experience, you learn from it; somehow you get strength from these situations. Since then I have travelled thousands of miles. I still get those butterflies when the immigration officer pauses a little longer than usual when looking at my passport.
BUT in my 'everything happens for a reason way of thinking' the truth is that had I NOT been refused entry on that fateful day I would most probably never have ended up in Malaysia. Given the choice – USA or Malaysia, I will prefer to call Malaysia home every single time.

5 comments:

fook said...

wish u will not have trouble go to kona this time, all the best!

David said...

And this all meant I had to wait even longer before moving into the bigger bedroom......thanks Uncle Sam!
xxx

Miro said...

Hi Emma, nice story even thou it was quite sad that time for you, I can imagine. btw - You are not paying for the visa but for the process of your application. Regardless of the outcome.

Indeed as someone suggested earlier, you may want to get some kind of a letter of reference from TBB (on your employment status & funds) or even better from WTC in Florida stating your purpose of your stay and that you have sufficient funds, you are not intending to stay there, etc. Such official letters from employers and organizations usually help a lot.

All the best.

Emma said...

thanks Miro,
I have the letter of qualifaction which should stand up - will also get a letter from TBB. I think/hope it is just a formality and proabably do not even need to get it BUT if I didn't have it I would spend the rest of the year worrying that I MAY not get in and that would not help my preparation!! Interview is booked for next week :)

Cheong said...

What they like to see is that you are not seeking employment or overstay there. So a reference letter from TBB stating your employment status, funds should suffice along with your Kona qualification letter (purpose of visit).

It is good that you have initiated the process early.

As always, all the best.