Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Border Patrol Blues

“Ladies and gentlemen,” the captain started. This can’t be good. We were at least an hour and a half from touchdown in Sydney and the engines had not throttled back, the standard indicator of thank-God-this-is-almost-over. There was no normal reason for him to get chatty this soon.

“Sydney’s airport is closed due to thunderstorms over the field so we are being instructed to divert to Brisbane.” Nice! Others around the cabin moaned and groaned over the inconvenience but I was on the start of a ten-day vacation; I had all the time in the world and I’d never been to the capital of Queensland.

The smiles of anticipation ended pretty much as soon as we landed. We were the 5th international diversion to Brisbane which understandably wasn’t staffed for the sudden uptick in business at immigrations. The authorities were surprisingly efficient in moving the multitudes through the system until they got to me, however, when things slowed down considerably.

Horror stories regarding tightened security at immigrations are on the rise. Everything from mistaken identity to a simple lack of employment are turning away innocent tourists and their much needed money across the planet. My issue at Brisbane wasn’t my employment status but the state of my passport. The immigrations officer scribbled on my immigration card which flagged me for extra questioning. At least they were trying to be discrete instead of dragging the 6’3” American out of the queue.

I absorbed the full broadside of questions in an interview even a hardened criminal might fail. My eight-year old passport featured the old-style picture laminated to the page instead of the laser imprint kind. It was old, beaten up, water-logged and had ink running from under the picture itself, a “clear indicator” of a possible forgery in the eyes of the Brisbane officials.

Right. Multiple stamps, include repeats, from around the world and even inserted pages did nothing to tell them this was just a seasoned tourist on holiday. An “Interpol” link wouldn’t have found anything more threatening about me than a speeding ticket. I was eventually allowed to enter Australia but couldn’t help feeling like that British grandmother at Miami being called an “undesirable.”

Unemployment is not a crime. Neither is simply wanting to see the world but in this or any economy take no chances when it comes to entering a foreign country. Have a passport, period. Then read up on the entry requirements for each country, specifically if visas are also required. Make photocopies in case the original is lost or stolen.

Credit or debit cards usually suffice to show you can support yourself and finally, be ready and able to produce a print-out of your itinerary showing onward or return travel in this day of e-tickets. Even if you are unemployed and want to see the world, let them see when they can expect to see you heading in the other direction.

Gotta go!


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