02 August 2005

US Immigration

My flight was relatively on-time. However, as I turned the corner
into immigration, I couldn't believe what I saw.
There were at least 1000 people in front of me. We were in a snaking
queue, just 4 rows deep, but each line of the snake was probably 50
metres or more. That was the queue to get to the queue in front of
each booth. Out of the 24 booth's for visitor immigration, perhaps
50% were staffed. So, 12 booths processing 1,000 people or more. It
took me almost 2 hours to get through - not what I wanted at 4am in
the morning UK time. The process isn't significantly slower than it
used to be - the extra fingerprint step (left and right index fingers
+ photo) doesn't take too long. But should human beings be treated
this way? I'm over on a 2 day trip! I would NEVER consider a
shopping trip to NY again. It is just demeaning. Added to this is
that you can't use a mobile anytime till you're cleared. Why? This
is a stupid rule. Instead of telling people you've arrived; instead
of arranging your transport; you do absolutely NOTHING for 2 hours
but stand and shuffle your bags a few metres at a time. When you do
get out, the transport is a mess - complete gridlock because
relatives have come to pick up people, and instead of just doing a
pick up, the whole place is a parking lot.

In case you think I just hit the wrong time, the queue was still at
least the same size when I got out!

It's never been great in immigration into the US, but it's worse than
ever - at a time when airport taxes are higher and higher. For
anyone seeing their first glimpse of America, it appears far from the
Land of the Free, and it's fabled efficiency is just a joke. If you
economically costed this fiasco it would be in billions a year. Is
this what we might have to get used to in the UK?

Update: On returning to the UK, I disembarked (or de-planed as I've heard say) via a bus, went through customs, got a taxi home to SW London all in under 50 minutes. If I'd been an American, I doubt it would have taken any longer. While it was a longer line here than I've been used to, and slower moving, it was NOTHING like the US. Anyone considering a shopping trip to NY should seriously factor in that a 7 hour flight these days is more like a 13 hour home-to-hotel trip, and IMHO you've got to save a lot of money to justify losing 26 hours of your life on a return trip.


Yusuf Smith said...

I got referred here from Charles Arthur's blog. There's also an article in this week's Spectator about how our immigration officials treat foreign visitors (in this case Australians) and the resentment it sometimes causes. In the case mentioned, they rifled through a woman's personal letters and formed a false conclusion that she had been "working" for someone here (a relative) in return for accommodation. The problem is well-known among international tourists and even got mentioned in the Rough Guide book "First Time Europe". Perhaps our governments need to sit down and work out a way for us to visit each other's countries without this sort of hassle, given that we have so much in common and such strong family ties. We are, after all, the same people.

Ian Hobson said...

Absolutely right. I couldn't agree more. Really these "agents" of our governments should treat visitors with respect and openness.

I would say however, that at least in the UK, the queues are not what they are in the US. To wait 2 hours in a line is I think disgraceful, especially given the taxes now paid. To allow no mobile phones or escape for loos, etc is really ridiculous. That's why I won't easily be visiting the US anytime soon!