“Have you got anything interesting?
“I’m sorry. Interesting? Well I have a blue, silk dress from Vietnam if that’s what you mean by interesting? I think it’s interesting.”
The American Customs’ Officer was clearly not amused. Neither was I. It was 8 in the morning and I had just arrived in Miami from Lima, Peru. I wanted to find a coffee and just wait for my evening flight home (Bermuda).
He would not relent.
“You went traveling for a year? How did you pay for it?”
Yes, man, because I am an economic immigrant from Bermuda!!!! Why, in anyone’s name, would I want to stay in Miami where the wage is definitely not what I could make at home? And last I checked Bermudians are not generally on the sneak-in list.
I controlled my thoughts and said: “Well I saved-up and then I wrote a column while I was on the road that helped.”
Nothing mattered. I was sent into the arms of some very cheery idiot who decided regaling me about his colleagues working in Bermuda, would ease the pain of the customs’ back room. It didn’t.
Two hours later, frozen and listening to the infant next to me balling its eyes out, I finally approached yet another customs officer.
“You’ve been denied a visa to the United States before?”
“But it says here that you were denied a visa for your Masters in….”
“Well that’s funny because I have a piece of paper here that says I wasn’t and I actually attained a Masters in International Relations.”
It was my first experience with America’s amazing, new system for screening foreigners: the ESTA online visa form! and it wouldn’t be my last.
Or yours, for that matter, if you’re a Bermudian with a British passport! Ahhh the joys of trying to enter another country. Visas.
That’s why today, CTravel’s knowledgable and helpful staff, Pat Adderley, is offering this Q&A to help those lost among the confusion of travel visas.
So Pat, since when have British travelers had to go online for an American Visa? Didn’t we just fill out a form at the airport?
She said: “A Bermudian passport holder going to the U.S. are given a free entry and there’s nothing they have to do. If you have a passport from the Waiver Countries from the EU you are visa free, however you now have to go online and fill-out the ESTA form. It’s like the green form we used to have to fill out at the airport.
“In June this year it cost $14 and it lasts for 2 years. That’s just takes down who you are and your passport details.”
But Pat, what about older people or those without computers? Surely this system leaves a particular segment of the population out of the ability to acquire a visa?
She said: “For people who don’t have computers or older people we will fill out the forms.”
There is often the confusion in Bermuda about whether or not to attain a British passport, which as an overseas territory we are allowed to have. What would you suggest?
She said: “What we recommend is that Bermudians get themselves a UK passport as we are entitled to it. Yes it’s expensive, but if you have to get visas for the Schengen countries it’s expensive too and some require a personal appearance.
“You will have to go to Washington or New York to go for the interview. They don’t want a third party involved. They don’t want to hear from use. they want to meet you in person.
“What we are finding, now, is that most of the European countries in the Schengen visa allow that once you have one for Portugal then you are able to travel to other countries i.e. Spain, France, etc….
“Sometimes they do a six month visa, sometimes a year sometimes longer. Each of these countries have qualifiers of their own.”
Sounds like it’s best for a Bermudian to get a British Passport. But Bermuda has a lot of workers from various countries that will need to visas. What is your biggest problem with attaining visas for them?
She said: “The biggest visa and what we deal with on a daily basis are the UK and US visas because of the Ethnic groups we have in Bermuda and who are trying to get home (i.e. fly through the UK to get to Sri Lanka). Most who get it there the UK some without much problem. And sometimes after they have spent $400 on a Canadian visa to get home they get denied.
“Then what? Then they can’t go home?
But how do these workers get to Bermuda in the first place? They must have been screened.
She said: “They come with a visa that is good for 90 days and come through the UK. It has run out and now they need a new one to get home.
” And now it is even worse for Jamaicans, for example. They have a big expense now because they used to not need a visa to get through the US. Now they do. Now they have to go through the U.K. to go to Jamaica!”
What could help?
She said: “What would be helpful is if the Bermuda Government sat down with the U.K., the U.S. and Canadian representatives and tell them we have guest workers who have been scrutinized and we know they are safe and know they can get their visas.”
And what does CTravel do to help?
She said: “Usually if they come in they (foreign workers) make an appearance with us we fill out an application for them. Then they have to make an appearance with immigration for biometrics. After we make that appointment the officers stamp their applications and we forward it to the consulate.
“It takes three weeks and sometimes longer depending.”
Can CTravel help me if I need a visa for, say, India?
She said: “One of the first things you should do when you book your trip is understand what kind of passport you are traveling with. That determines the rules and restrictions for your passport. Also don’t think because you had a visa in another passport before you are still covered.
“The key to it is plan early. We can do the Indian visa and the Japanese Visa. I have done a Nigerian visa.We usually do it just for our clients, but we will do it for others.”
And what about Bermudians who may be on the stop-list for America? You know, because of a minor drug conviction, etc…?
“It’s worth them to try. If they did something in their 20’s and now they are now in their 50’s or 60’s. Now they are on the stop list. Most of the time they can get a visa, but they have to do it early.”
Do you have more visa questions? Well make sure you contact Pat Adderley at CTravel for all of your visa concerns!
And make sure you check back tomorrow as I travel…….to St. George’s. I know crazy far away!