Every once in a while at HouseSitMatch we receive unusual travellers tales from our network of regular housesitters. Many of them love to travel the world to experience different cultures, geographies and the diverse peoples the planet has to share. This story, shared with us by Kelly Hayes-Raitt a HouseSitMatch member, long term housesitter and seasoned world traveller, is extraordinary. Please read and learn…
I Was Deported from Ireland!
When I accepted housesits in London before COVID, I never expected by Summer’s end I’d be deported from Ireland.
Honestly, I hadn’t intended to stretch my six-month UK visitor visa to its limit. I had intended to spend three weeks in London, then housesit in Montenegro in April before traveling around Europe to scope out a new home. I had recently sold my house in Los Angeles and quickly learned that it’s really bad timing to relocate to another continent during a worldwide pandemic.
But, COVID intervened, and I was locked down in London. Other housesitters have been stranded outside their home countries during lockdown, too. I was lucky: The couple for whom I was to housesit in mid-March invited me to stay in their self-contained loft during the initial pandemic months. It was the best of all worlds: Privacy to work and daily human interaction when we walked their lovable dog.
– through COVID
Eventually, I was offered a housesit in Edinburgh with no pets. This was a newly bought house by a woman for whom I’d previously housesat. She and her husband couldn’t get to it from their base in the UAE.
Now I had a long-term sit to sit out COVID’s winter wave!
The only issue was my expiring UK six-month visitor visa. I’m an American with no home base; I’ve been housesitting full-time for a decade.
Then I spoke with several immigration lawyers about my options. Their responses ranged from “it’s impossible to extend a visitor visa” to “here’s a link to the application for visa extensions.” That application cost £1333 plus lawyers’ fees.
Home Office guidance
I called the UK’s Home Office. In fact, I called twice and received consistent advice: “Stamp out” into another country, then return to the UK, explain my situation to the UK Immigration agent, and hope s/he would issue another six-month visitor visa.
One of the Home Office representatives directed me to the on-line manual that guides Immigration agents – and to the specific sections delineating the criteria agents use when determining if a visitor is attempting to string visitor visas to maintain residency – which I’m not.
Evidence at the ready
Armed with highlighted print-outs from the manual and proof that I’m not permanently residing in the UK, I boarded a flight at Gatwick and landed in Dublin so I could “stamp out” into the Republic of Ireland. I had another flight from Dublin to Edinburgh that evening to “stamp back” into the UK.
I answered the Dublin Immigration agent’s questions truthfully: That I would not be staying in Ireland – or even leaving the airport – as I was flying to Scotland that evening. (Therefore, there was no possibility I’d bring COVID into Ireland.). That I was stepping out and back at the advice of the UK Home Office because my visitor visa was due to expire and I wanted to be legal. I had no reason to be coy. What I was doing was perfectly legal and recommended by the UK Home Office.
…But it raised his suspicion. I learned later that Americans were using Ireland as a “back door” to enter the UK to avoid the mandatory 14-day quarantine.
Quizzed by Immigration
At this point, I was turned over to a younger Immigration agent. He asked me questions that led me to believe I’d be fine, such as the address in Edinburgh where I’d be staying. He asked when I entered the UK and asked for proof, “…such as a boarding pass on your phone?”
I thought this was a strange request. Of course I didn’t have a six-month-old boarding pass.
Then he asked how much money I had. This was also confusing, as the world had gone cashless. He got more specific and asked if I had a bank account, how much money I had in it, and whether I had proof.
Generally, I do carry a copy of a recent bank statement when I’m entering foreign countries, but I didn’t think I’d have a problem in Ireland.
“I can access my account on-line,” I offered. “May I use my cellphone (mobile phone) here?”
The agent assented, but barely looked at the screen when I showed him my account. Instead he said, “You can’t use your cellphone here” and reached through the window to take it.
After placing my phone out of my reach, he disappeared with my passport and a stack of papers.
And UK Immigration said…
Apparently, he called UK Immigration, who, he said, would decline issuing me another visitor visa. I had anticipated having that conversation in person at Immigration in Edinburgh, where I could show my evidence I’m not using consecutive visitor visas to “settle” in the UK.
But without being able to make my case directly to the decision-maker, I was sunk.
The agent said that “under these circumstances,” Ireland had decided to refuse me entry. I’d be deported back to Gatwick on the next flight. He didn’t allow me to speak directly with UK immigration.
He explained that my cellphone and passport would be put into an envelope and given to the captain of the flight I’d be on, who would hand it over to UK immigration agents at Gatwick. They would decide whether – or not – I’d get my phone and passport back.
Mug shot treatment
Then, I was asked to stand against a wall with height measurement marks and my photo was taken, mug-shot style. I asked the surly agent what the photo would be used for.
“That’s what we do with people like you.”
With that, I was turned over to two Immigration police officers, who, after hearing my story, expressed surprise I was refused entry. They led me outside to a paddy wagon, a police van with a rear-locked compartment featuring metal benches facing each other. The officers allowed me to sit in the van’s backseat rather than in the locked compartment.
When we reached a far corner of the airport, I was led up five flights of stairs – the officers carried my luggage! – and was asked to sit in a hallway. They handed me my phone.
I immediately texted a friend in London. She got busy activating her international network to see where I might stay if Immigration at Gatwick refused to allow me to re-enter the UK. Since the UK had, according to the Irish immigration agent, denied me entry into Edinburgh, it was entirely possible I’d not be allowed back into London. It was pretty ironic that I was being deported back into a country that had just allegedly refused me entry!
Where could I go? I had no home in the US and although I hadn’t been in the States since December, I couldn’t go to France, Germany, Spain, Portugal…as all of the EU (except the UK and the Republic of Ireland) has banned Americans because of my country’s poor response to COVID. Frantically, I scribbled phone numbers of friends and US consuls, as I didn’t know whether my phone would be confiscated again before the flight (or permanently by UK Immigration agents).
The police officers escorted me to the plane, handed the envelope to the Captain and settled me in the last row.
When we landed at Gatwick, I disembarked via the backdoor. I walked along the tarmac to the front of the plane and called up to the Purser, asking where I should wait for the Captain. The flight attendant popped into the cockpit, then handed me the envelope with my passport.
The Captain stuck his head out his window. “Immigration will meet you inside, and, if they don’t…” he shrugged. “Good luck!”
No immigration control
There is no Immigration control at Gatwick for flights coming from within the British Common Travel Area. So I was near an exit in minutes. Instead of bolting, however, I sat down and texted my friend that I’d landed.
“What’s your nationality?” an Immigration agent approached me. “Where are you flying from?” …And just like that my passport was out of my hands again.
Two other agents approached. They escorted me through Gatwick’s bowels. “We got her,” they told other agents we passed.
I was led through airport security – laptop and liquids out, shoes off – and taken to an area where new arrivals were being questioned.
After a while, I was asked to follow an agent to one of the Immigration windows. Since we had plexiglass between us, he allowed me to take off my mask, which I’d been wearing for nearly 12 hours.
The British Isles Common Travel Area
“What do you understand your situation to be?” he asked, kindly.
“I realize my fate is in your hands,” I implored. “And I know you are looking at whether I’m trying to create permanent residency here. I can prove I’m not. May I please get my papers?”
He nodded and I retrieved my highlighted copies of the Immigration guidance manual. He actually read them, but told me that because I’d flown from the British Isles Common Travel Area (the UK, Ireland, Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man), he couldn’t issue a new visitor visa. I’d have to “stamp out” in another country and return.
More travellers tales
What I wanted to say was: “So, I have to take public transportation to the airport. Then I have to hang out here, get on a plane to a foreign country? That means hanging out in their airport, getting on another plane to fly back and end up right where I am now. All this at a time when governments are asking us not to travel.”
Instead, I asked, “What happens now?” I had noted he didn’t have my passport.
He said he needed to “confer with [his] colleagues.” Several minutes later he returned with my passport and told me I had four days remaining on my visa.
I spent those four days contacting lawyers for advice about the £1333 visa extension application. While the Home Office is considering my application, my visa is effectively extended.
Love travelling by housesitting
There’s a lot of pain in the world right now, and I want to maintain perspective. This was a day that could have been much worse. And it could have been far worse had I not been a white, native English-speaking woman from the US with options and means. But it still was unnerving. I still love travelling by housesitting and petsitting.
Kelly Hayes-Raitt has been travelling full-time as an international housesitter for the past decade. She is the author of How to Become a Housesitter: Insider Tips from the HouseSit Diva, available as a soft cover or Kindle from Amazon or as an ebook from www.HouseSitDiva.com. This is her first time getting deported, adding to her remarkable travellers tales.
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