For those of you who don’t know, the US is one of about three countries in the world that (officially) treat journalists differently to other visitors. If you’re in the UK, you can normally get into the US with a visa waiver form (that’s the green one). But a close study of the visa waiver form reveals that that you can’t use it if you’re representing “a foreign media service”.
That means one of two things:
- Entering the US under false pretences – i.e. using the visa waiver form and claiming you’re on holiday
- Paying £50, making a trip to the US embassy for an interview, getting a letter from a magazine saying they’ll be responsible for you financially and a week or more without your passport
Option 2 is the safer and more complicated option but it does result in a visa. I actually have an I-visa, which entitled me to live and work in the US for five years when I got it, all of which I needed apparently for a one-day press conference in New York back in 2002 to hear Dell announce not much at all.
The trouble is no one seems to be quite sure when I should use it. The UK check-in desks all seems absolutely convinced that since I have a US visa, I need a white form. Thus, they always give me a white form. US customs, however, is far more sure that if I’m travelling for purposes other than work, I should use a green form and that I should fill one in over there then join the back of the line.
I am more persuaded by them than by the check-in people.
So now, to ensure that I don’t have to fill in the other form (whichever that might be) after queuing for an hour or more at customs, I ask for both at the check-in desks, fill them both in on the plane and then hand over the white form at customs. If customs wants green, I magic one up from the depths of my bag and I still get to go through. At least, that’s the theory.
Yet somehow even that tactic fails me every time and on my Vegas trip, I had to go to the back of the line to fill in a form again. What went wrong this time? The bottom bit had come off my white form. I’m absolutely sure I never had it, so maybe the check-in people gave me a defective one. Who knows? I checked the pocket on the seat in front of me five times before leaving the plane (after successfully leaving books behind on my previous two flights), and there was definitely nothing in there.
Since the nice man at customs only had white forms in French and Italian, I had to malinger off to the side watching people file past while someone traced a Virgin Atlantic rep to get me a nice white form.
Next time, I’ll fill out two of everything. That’ll do it.