Day 321: Welcome to America

Yesterday evening I arrived to LAX airport. It's always a lovely experience going through the US immigration control. After a ten hour flight and being up for almost 24 hours it's time for the small interrogation.

- What's the purpose of your trip?

- Vacation.

- For how long are you staying?

- About two weeks.

- You don't know? You don't have a return ticket?

- No, not yet.

- Did you know that under the ESTA visa waiver program it's required to have a return ticket?

- No I didn't know that.

- Where are you staying?

- In Los Angeles.

- Which county?

- I don't know.

- You don't know?

- No...

- Where are you staying?

- It's downtown LA.

- How do you know it's downtown?

- I saw it on the map.

- You saw it on the map?

- Yes.

- Do you have the map?

- I'm not sure, I might have it in the phone.

- Can you show me the map?

- I'm not sure I have it actually..

- So you don't have a return ticket. That means we might have to deport you.

- Could I buy a ticket online?

- That's not up to me. I'll send you to the office. What's that? *points to a band aid on my finger*

- I cut myself.

- How?

- When cooking.

- Ok, listen to me. Whatever you do, don't remove it. Don't touch anything with your finger.

- Eh, ok.

- Now do the finger prints. And don't touch the pad with your finger! Hold it like this. Look at me. Thumb in like this. Now practice here first...

- Ok...

- Why did you not buy a return ticket?

- Because I wasn't sure when I wanted to go back.

- What's the purpose of the trip?

- Vacation.

- What's your job.

- I'm a freelance writer.

- You're writing from here?

- I have a blog... I will write some things for the blog.

- You're a journalist? That means you should have a journalist visa.

- Well... I'm not really a journalist... and I don't plan to do any work for contractors here.

- That's what you're saying, and I believe you. But we can't know that for sure.

 

The picture is taken before the immigration control. When I didn't have words such as 'deportation' and 'cavity search' on my mind.

The picture is taken before the immigration control. When I didn't have words such as 'deportation' and 'cavity search' on my mind.

I felt as if every question was a trick question that I could give the wrong answer to. So I did at least three things wrong: I cut my finger when cooking. I didn't have a return ticket. And I didn't apply for a journalist visa/mention that I might write some things while here. Maybe I should have stated that I'm here for a business trip, since I'm going to an Airbnb conference, but no one is paying me anything to be here and I have a hard time myself knowing what is my job and what is now these days, so I didn't even think too much about it.

With that I was sent to the office where I waited about an hour, until immigration officer Finkelstein made a new interrogation.

- Where are you from?

- Sweden.

- How's Sweden today.

- Snowy.

- Good. Or, maybe it's better here.

- What's the purpose of your trip?

- Vacation.

- What will you do here?

- See some friends.

- How long are you staying.

- About two weeks... well, actually, that's the thing, I didn't buy a return ticket... that's why they sent me here.

- Why didn't you buy a return ticket.

- Because I wasn't sure when I wanted to go back.

- But it's more expensive to buy two single tickets?

- Actually not with Norwegian.

- But what if the flights are full.

- I checked and there seemed to be a lot of empty seats.

- Why do you have to be back in two weeks.

- Well... it's not like I really have to be back... but I should go home and get some work done.

- Why do I get an impression that there was a problem with your work here.

- Well, they asked me about my job and I said I'm a freelance writer. If I find something interesting here I might write about it when I get home, but I'm not planning on really working here.

- Hm, ok.

- When was the last time you were in the states?

- Three-four years ago?

- How long did you stay then?

- A week.

- Have you been in Los Angeles before.

- Yes, in 1986.

- What is the longest time you have spent in the US?

- Five weeks.

- Where do your friends live?

- San Diego.

- What kind of transportation are you planning on taking from the airport.

- I thought I might take a cab.

- To San Diego?!

- Well, no, I'm staying in Los Angeles for a few days first.

- What are you doing in Los Angeles.

- Some shopping...

 

Which is not really what I had planned, but it seemed like the easiest answer. It was too late to start trying to explain the Airbnb conference, my blog etc. But anyway, Finkelstein seemed to be happy with my answers, stamped my passport and let me leave, even without purchasing a return ticket.

My thoughts on the whole thing is this: The US immigration rules are clearly not adapted to a world with more freelancers and urban nomads.

And I should be more careful when traveling next time. Being a Swedish citizen I probably got the nice treatment. And am happy not thinking too much about what happened to the people who where taken into the room behind this office...

Nothing makes you appreciate the Schengen agreement more than arriving to the US without a return ticket and with a small cut in a finger.