How Not to Cross the Border, Or “Please Proceed to Immigration”
I travel a fair bit for my job and it occasionally takes me up north to America Junior. I’ve been to Ontario dozens of times and before Sunday never once been hassled for more than five minutes. I carefully go through the motions of avoiding the dangerous “w” word and normally cruise right through.
Before Sunday, I’ve been redirected to immigration twice. The first time, a very unhappy agent gave me a six month work visa without even telling me. It wasn’t until he cleared me and I was walking away that I noticed the stamp on my passport. Thanks, random disgruntled agent!
The second time I just answered a few questions and was on my way.
Sunday was a different story. I was making fantastic time when I crossed the Ambassador bridge. The booth agent didn’t much care for my song and dance around the “w” word and sent me to immigration. The guy there wasn’t too happy to see me either. He asked for my documentation—letter of attestation, college diploma, resume and customer contract—and was disappointed that I wasn’t sure what he was talking about and couldn’t provide any of it.
I admitted that I had no idea what to do as I’d never provided anything before and asked for suggestions. He thought it’d be wise to call human resources and get a letter that shows that “there’s no one else in Canada that can do what [I] do to work here as a non-Canadian.”
This was at 10pm on Sunday so that wasn’t going to happen (also, that was impossible—I’m awesome at what I do but not 100% unique, even in Canada). I asked if I was being turned away or if I could figure something out. He replied, “I’m legally required to give you a chance to produce documentation before I turn you away.” Challenge accepted.
I grabbed my laptop and tethered it to the crappiest, weakest, most pathetic signal my phone as ever intermittently clung to. I then impressed myself by leveraging my scan-and-organize-everything compulsion by obtaining the following documents:
- customer contract from my company’s VPN
- my college diploma from Dropbox
- my resume from Stackoverflow Careers
I also wrote a letter of attestation according to the NAFTA documents the agent gave me. Yeah, NAFTA, as in the treaty. I asked the guy if I could write this letter myself, seeing as how no one would be present at my office. He was surprised and said no one had ever done it themselves on the spot before. He couldn’t see why not so that’s what I did.
NAFTA explained that as a professional, I could enter the country as a business visitor without proving that I’m 100% unique. It was weird writing a letter by, about, and for myself. Considering my battery had started to flash when I started, I think I did pretty good:
March 13, 2011
This letter serves to identify Michael Haren as a senior engineer at The Rovisys Company. Michael is working closely with (redacted) for a project of international scope, based in (redacted), United States. His brief presence is required in meetings with (redacted) IT department to support this effort.
As proof of his professional status, I have attached his diploma and resume. As further evidence, he has been employed by Rovisys for more than five years.
I ran into a problem. I had gathered everything I needed but not in hard copy. As my lappy was dying I desperately tried to use an internet fax tool to deliver everything to them but I was really struggling with my podunk connection. In the last few moments, I transferred all the files to my phone and from there sent the files to Wife as a backup.
Oh, and I put them on a flash drive for the next step.
I went up to the counter and pulled out the drive. I was greeted by a new face. Apparently I had arrived at shift change and they previous guy that was helping me was gone. I had to start over but I was optimistic (my situation had a lot of room to improve, but it couldn’t get much worse).
I explained that I had found everything they needed and it was all on the flash drive. Before new-face could object, I acknowledged that I knew there was no way they could plug in a random USB drive into their computers and explained that I was trying to reach someone with a fax machine.
She asked me a bunch of new questions and genuinely tried to understand exactly what I do for a living. She summed it up nicely, actually, “so you work on a mainframe in the US and some people in Canada dial in to it over the phone to do stuff?”
“Yes, exactly!” (if we were in the 1980s, at least, but the broad strokes were close enough).
And then my big break, “OK, Mr. Haren, I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt here and allow you to enter. Just next time please print the documents before you arrive.”
Apparently she didn’t realize I had just gathered/written them minutes before. I was on my way at last! I hopped in my car and sped off, a couple of hours behind schedule. I happily looked up and saw this:
Oh that’s weird, I thought. Then, quite suddenly, I realized this meant I was headed back into the United States and shouted a four letter word. I had a decision to make. I could go through customs two more times (and pay the bridge toll twice again, too), or do something very dumb. I was tired and irritable so I did the latter.
I pulled a u-ey on the bridge. Even in my tiny car it was a three-point turn but I was quick and there wasn’t any traffic. I pulled up to the Canada-booth again and whimpered, “you’re not going to believe this but I was just cleared through immigration and I made a wrong turn.” He glanced at his computer and waved me through (phew!). I quickly got onto the highway (the right one) and eventually arrived (very late) to my hotel.
Morals of this story:
- Don’t go to Canada
- If you must, print out your documents first
- The internet is awesome, as is my phone (DINC) for connecting me to it
Sarah said on 2011-03-15
Too bad we didn’t go with you ~ the border patrolman wouldn’t have been able to turn away our adorable sleeping children :) Well, assuming they were sleeping, anyway. Otherwise he might have just taken pity on us with our less-adorable screaming children and let us in!
Mary said on 2011-03-24