Another reader marvels at the visa bureaucracy of the US:
I just read your post about how hard the US makes it for tourists. What struck me is that it’s a lot harder than going to China. When a friend and I decided in 2012 to go on a tour there, I was apprehensive about getting a visa. However, it was actually not bad. I filled out an application and paid $50 to a company so I didn’t have stand in line at the Chinese embassy. I got the visa less than three weeks later. You might think that it was easy because it was a tour. However, a friend of mine is going to China with her Chinese roommate and a few other people; she also had a pretty easy time getting a visa. It is really depressing that it is much harder to be a tourist going to the US than it is going to China.
But another reader pushes back:
I really hope we can hear from an immigration agent on this thread. I would bet that they are explicitly instructed to presume that each person is lying, because they have so little power once a person has entered the country.
We need to acknowledge that the US is such an outsized destination. When you left England, you wanted to come here. When my wife left Colombia, she wanted to come here. Not Canada, not Japan, not Australia. If we relax our visa policy, it’s not a stretch to imagine that our illegal alien population would skyrocket. Can the US handle such an influx? The current economy would seem to indicate that there are not enough jobs to go around.
A few more readers share their stories:
Like you, I’m a British citizen. That is, I’m a citizen of the USA’s closest ally, a country that has fought alongside the US in most of its recent wars, a NATO member and a wealthy country that doesn’t export large numbers of illegal immigrants to the US. Although I technically don’t have to get a visa to enter the US, I would have to apply for ESTA, which is effectively a visa by another name.
I was treated so badly at the border the one time I’ve been to the US since 9/11 that I now refuse to go back. The impact has been that I’ve travelled within Europe a lot more in the last decade or so than in the previous one. If you want to talk about “soft power,” then I’ll say that I’ve come to feel much more European and much less attached to the Anglosphere, in part as a result.
While American tourists to Britain get treated a lot better than British tourists to America, we still treat American immigrants terribly. Getting an ILR (the British equivalent to a green card) is a long and difficult process that is little better than the green card process, not to mention that the filing fees are a lot higher.
It would be terrific policy for countries with little problem with illegal immigration to sign a mutual immigration treaty, granting their citizens the ability to go to each others’ countries, both as tourists and as worker-immigrants, without having to fight the immigration system – that is, a UK passport would be treated like a US one at entry to the United States, and vice versa, excepting a few people excluded as persona non grata (e.g. deported criminals). This would benefit every American who wanted to travel to Britain to work, for a vacation, or visiting family or friends, benefit every Brit who wants to travel to the US – and who loses?
I’m not sure if you are still hoping to keep this thread going, but I thought I’d add my experience as a native-born American. My wife and I recently adopted a little boy from Ethiopia. The visa process itself was onerous but understandable; due diligence is rather important when considering matching a child with a family that is not biologically his or hers.
To complete the process, we flew to Ethiopia twice. The first time, we appeared in an Ethiopian court and adopted our son under Ethiopian law. The second time, about three months later, we finished the process at the U.S. Embassy and flew home with him. Both flights were eye-openers. (For background, it’s helpful to understand the visa that our son received entitled him to American citizenship upon arrival, so he was legally an Ethiopian citizen for the flight until wheels down at Dulles.)
We took Ethiopian Airlines on our first flight back. The plane experienced mechanical issues during a refueling stop in Rome, and after several hours we offloaded and waited for mechanics to fix it. The wait was going to be long, and the airline booked rooms at a nearby hotel for passengers. One of the airline employees called everyone together and asked by show of hands who was an American or European citizen. He told us to follow him to the hotel and halfheartedly added that those with other passports that “acquiring visas is just too difficult right now.” Half of us – including lots of Americans of Ethiopian heritage – followed him to the hotel. The other stayed in the terminal another 15 hours until we all boarded again.
Not only did this highlight the global haves and have-nots, but my wife astutely pointed out that, if we had our son (then only six months old) on this flight, we would be entitled to leave the airport but he could not.
Three months later, we landed on an Emirates Airlines flight. The sequester-related elimination of overtime for passport control officers had kicked in, and two other flights – one from Europe and another from Asia- landed just minutes before us. We waited 2½ hours in the citizen line, which provided a lot of time to watch passport control in its finest. While everyone in my line was in possession of a blue passport, it became very, very obvious that those born in the United States were rushed through, while immigrants received a much more thorough screening.
As a country built on immigration – and as a new dad of a newly arrived immigrant – I saw that as little more than a big “fuck you” to an American citizen who just happened to be born outside of our shores.