Customs and Immigration

I'm in California at the moment (lunch, Mr. Kite? Monday or Tuesday?). My husband and my two little kids are here too. They decided to come along to keep me company because I am here for a full week. We are lucky to be here. Let me tell you about the nasty thing that happened to me at the Vancouver International Airport.

If you're travelling to the US from Vancouver, you clear (if all goes well) Customs and Immigration in Vancouver. I've never had any problem crossing... until yesterday.

I got a bad feeling from the officer right from the moment we were directed into his queue. He took his time before he looked up from the glow of his computer screen to acknowledge us. I won't say greet us because, um, that didn't happen. (Despite the pure fiction they have displayed on posters in the Customs Zone at the airport: We pledge to greet you with courtesy and welcome you to the United States. Ha! More like, We pledge to get erections while we give you the silent treatment until you start to babble and cry.) Anyway, he asked some questions, and then slowly and deliberately reached for an upsettingly non-handy fat purple felt pen.* I could tell this wasn't his regular pen. He wrote a big letter "H" on my customs card. "H"?? I've never seem that before. What could I have said to give me the worrisome H?

Then he said, "Go in there." And pointed to a set of closed doors. Not a good sign. (Did I mention that it is 4:30 am?) I said, "Is there a problem?" He said, "I don't know."

To make a long story short, we had a long wait in the second room. The clock was ticking (as clocks do), and I was starting to get nervous about missing my flight (the fam was on a later flight so I wasn't as worried about them). Finally, I had some more questions from a slightly nicer person and found out that I am violating NAFTA rules by coming down here to do work. The only reason they finally let me through was because I swore up and down that I was only coming here for training and that I wouldn't do a stitch of work (so help me god). The fact that I work for the same company in Vancouver as the one that I am visiting in the US? Makes no difference. The fact that I am doing the same work in Vancouver as I would do in the US? Makes no difference.

Good to know. Wish my company had given me a heads up (does this take an apostrophe? I've often wondered. I will look it up someday).

They added an annotation to my passport record. I expect that border crossing will get harder from now on.

I ran and made my flight with 2 minutes to spare. I am not in very good cardiovascular shape.

But here we are. We're having a pretty good time.

* Yes, I need that many adjectives.


Zootenany Hoodlum said...


You're in for it now.

richard said...

Time to talk to said company, I'd say.

Darren said...


You need an H1B temporary work visa to *work* in the United States. These are given out with great fanfare after you and the US company produce the requisite stacks of documentation. They are not given out automatically. You can be denied. (I have been denied from renewing mine, after I had been working down there for a year already... WTF?)

It's their game, they make the rules. I wouldn't worry about long term consequences that much though, this kind of problem is pretty routine, non-handy pen notwithstanding.

If you aren't *working* down there, your Canadian office should have anticipated the difficulties you would experience (especially as a noob business border crosser), and given you a very clearly worded letter on company letterhead explaining how your activities during your visit would comply with NAFTA regulations. When I crossed the border back in the day (ie even before I got a work permit and still worked for a Canadian company), this was standard procedure.

If you didn't have such a letter, then you get back to Canada you should rip the person responsible for your travel arrangements a new bodily orifice.

Doesn't running for a plane suck? I had to run at Christmas... I almost threw up when I got there.

fiona-h said...

said company is getting paperwork together to apply for that temp. work visa.

Mr. Kite said...

What hppened to my original comment to this post? Was it to politically incorrect?

Darren said...

You don't necessarily need a work visa to enter the US for business purposes. That seems like overkill for a week of training. My Canadian employer would often send me down there for a day at a time to do systems analyst stuff (no visa needed at that point).

You do need some kind of documentation to show that you are not doing anything down there that WOULD require a work visa.

But of course, you are now down there already, so I would think it is a moot point?

fiona-h said...

I didn't see it, mr. k...! Did you have trouble with the squiggly letters? Try again :-)
(Sorry I missed you - will be back in Oct assuming all goes well with visa app)

richard said...

Mr. K, I'm glad I'm not the only one who's had trouble with comments not showing up! But it's been fine for me for weeks now.

fiona-h said...

I promise I don't leave any out! 'cept for the spam ones.

Molly said...

Of course if you wanted to pick apples or clean toilets you'd have been more than welcome.

My latest travel adventure was last week, flying to MH. A gentleman who was flying first class refused to board the plane when he observed the three Muslim women in robes and veils waiting to board. So I got bumped up to his seat!

Mark Hanington said...

So, become an American citizen already! Jeez

richard said...

I hurriedly typed your address to see if you'd said anything recently, but typed in "blogpot" rather than "blogspot." Much to my amusement, your parallel page at fiona-h.blogpot.com is a page of bible study!

It describes itself thusly: "A mega-site of Bible, Christian and religious information and studies. By God's mercy, one of the largest Bible-centered sites on the web (app. 6000 pgs). If it's in the Bible, it should be on this site!"

(And it appears to use every blogspot address, including mine, but I thought maybe you'd been singled out....)

fiona-h said...

that is Funny!

grobworthy said...

You are a marked woman now. Not unlike Hester Prynne, except of course it's an H not an A. Surprisingly close typographically really. On a foggy morning in colonial Salem Massachusetts, one might be hard pressed to discern the difference. A shame it wasn't a red pen really. Bit of a slip up there. He was probably looking for red and had to settle with the purple instead. Hawthorne's story starts with a preface called "The Customs House" too. Coincidence? I think not.
Next time the stocks, then banishment for Goodwife Fiona!