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swiss-list: Immigration story

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swiss-list: Immigration story

From: Erik Bruchez <click for textversion of email address >
Date: Wed, 22 Sep 2004 21:35:19 -0700


I thought I would share this little immigration story with swiss-list

I have been in the US since late 1997 (over 7 years now), with five
H1-B visas in my passport (probably more than the average), and some
extended stays as "visitor" that amount to almost an entire year. My
last H1-B expired in May. I left the US for a five-week stay in
Switzerland during the summer, and I re-entered the US as a visitor in
August without any problem, going through immigration at SFO. All this
may have triggered some red flag at the immigration of the Atlanta
airport last weekend, when I came back from a two-week trip in
Peru. My conversation with the immigration officer, who was very dry,
went about as follows:

Me: Hi.

Him: What's the purpose of your visit in the US?

Me: I am just visiting for two weeks.

Him: [Going through my five expired H1-B in my passport] Do you plan
to work during your stay?

Me: No. I quit my last job back in May when my H1-B expired. I have a
receipt for a plane ticket that shows that I am going back to
Switzerland in two weeks.

Him: Did you work last for Company X?

Me: No, the last company I worked for was Company Y.

Him: Does Company Y have offices in Switzerland?

Me: No, it doesn't.

Him: [Puts all my documents in a bright orange folder] Ok, take this
folder and go to this office over there.

During all that time he was going back and forth between his computer
and my passport.

I follow the order, and find myself in a special room (quite nice
actually, like the rest of the Atlanta airport) with about five
Peruvians, and one or two immigration officers sitting behind a
counter. I witnessed the questioning of a Peruvian couple, where the
man, wearing a traditional hat, did not speak a word of English or
even Spanish (only Quechua, I understood). The woman kind of spoke a
Spanish dialect. An interpreter was relaying questions back and forth,
such as the "purpose of visit" question, but also "do you have money
with you", "who are you visiting" (the daughter), "is your daughter
allowed to work in the US" (she's a citizen), "what is your job back
home" (selling fruits), etc.

When my turn came, I was questioned by an officer even dryer and more
unpleasant than the first one. At that point I had already missed my
connecting flight to SFO, I did not know if my friends had boarded the
plane, I had had only a few hours of sleep in the plane during the
night, and those immigration officers were a little intimidating, so I
was a little stressed:

Him: What's the purpose of your visit to the US?

Me: I am visiting friends and taking care of some personal belongings.

Him: Do you have a job in the US?

Me: No, I don't.

Him: Do you have a job in Switzerland?

Me: No, I don't.

Him: So how are you going to sustain yourself while in the US?

Me: I worked in the US for almost seven years, I have money in a bank

Him: You last came to the US in August.

Me: Yes. [I thought it was time to explain the whole story.] I was
advised to go back to Switzerland for a while after my last visa
expired, and to come back as visitor to take care of my belongings. As
a matter of fact, they are on their way to Switzerland as we speak.

Him: Do you have a receipt or document showing that this is the case?

Me: No, not with me. But I have a receipt for a plane ticket showing
that I am going back to Switzerland in two weeks.

Him: [Looks at the passport and points to a certain H1-B]. This H1-B
expired. What was your status in the US at that point?

I explain that I asked for an extension, which was documented by my
last H1-B in the passport, and that everything was done by the rules.

Him: Do you own a house in the US?

Me: No.

Him: Do you own a house in Switzerland?

Me: No. But my parents do. [I am thinking that he wants to know if I
have ties in Switzerland.]

Him: Do they have a phone number in Switzerland?

Me: Yes. [I write it down]

Him: Who lives there?

I give him my father's name, and tell him that my father is currently
on a plane.

Him: So how can I speak to him if he's on a plane? Who else can I find

I write down the name of my mother. He leaves with the phone number,
then comes back angry because I wrote down a "+" in front of it.

He actually called my parents' home in Switzerland, without even
asking beforehand what time it would be there, or whether anybody
there spoke English. He luckily found my brother and asked him when
they were expecting me back. My brother answered correctly, the
immigration officer told me that he was able to confirm by return, and
I was released from further questioning.

I now understand how documents such as employment contracts, leases,
or other receipts, can be useful in such circumstances. I don't know
what would have happened if he hadn't found anybody home. Most likely
nothing too serious, but I would probably have spent more unpleasant
time in the company of immigration officers.

Luckily, Delta had a flight almost every hour to San Francisco, and
immigration had notified the airline that I would be delayed. My
friends were informed of this and had already taken care of making
sure that we would get seats on one of the following flights. So the
whole episode ended up being mainly an inconvenience, but it was also


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Received on Thu Sep 23 2004 - 00:10:47 PDT

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