I have heard many tales of how much stricter immigration and visa controls are nowadays for visitors to the US. British wine writer Julia Arkell sends the following word of warning: I flew home from Long Island via Boston recently and, in spite of myriad checks, no-one removed the departure record of my US Visa Waiver form from my passport - though in all fairness to American Eagle and American Airlines, I should have noticed this myself.
Having discovered the omission, I decided to ignore it. After all, whilst technically I am still in the States, surely it would be evident that I had indeed left before when I enter next time? Also (confession!), this is not the first time that this has happened to me (Canada/US border on that occasion) and it didn't prove to be a huge hiccough.
But that was pre 9/11. And that was before I read a horrifying report in the newspaper today about Visa Waiver/US immigration debacles. I concluded that I should phone the American Embassy in London straightaway to find out how to set the record straight.
Well, what a palaver! Not only must I write an apologetic letter of explanation, but I must also photocopy my passport, complete and send in the departure record of my US Visa Waiver form, supply my original boarding card for the Boston-London flight (just as well I still have it - by sheer fluke) and, the best bit, provide as much evidence as possible that I have actually been in the UK since I returned via bank records, credit card slips, letters from suitable personages who have seen me, and so on. The mere effort of providing the paperwork for this oversight is horrendous. Furthermore, the Embassy advised me to photocopy absolutely everything pertaining to this and to take it with me next time I go to the States 'just in case the records have not been amended'.
Let me end with a favourable word about US Immigration. My flight from London to Boston was late arriving, leaving me precious little time to make my connection to Long Island (which also involved changing terminal). I flagged down an official, explained my predicament and he took me straight to the head of what was a very long queue.