Sunday, 10 April 2005

Shocked and Humiliated at Heathrow

It is with great sadness that I read a story in the Malay Mail - Shocked and humiliated."

I wrote this a long time ago but the story of the traumatic experience of a Malaysian family at Heathrow sounds sadly familiar. What I have reproduced and adapted below is not a judgement of the family but rather what I have seen and heard and witnessed myself.

"WE have heard numerous stories about how and why people are turned away at the airport. Most certainly deserved it but many were quite unnecessary.

Many spent a lot of money on air tickets and months of planning only to be deported because of some inappropriate or wrong answers that they gave at the immigration desks.

Well, if you enter the country as a tourist but at the same time reveal some intention of searching for work or cannot make your mind up about the length of stay or what you want to do in Britain, then there is every reason for the immigration to be suspicious.

There have certainly been cases where a mother and daughter argued for all to hear about their reasons for visiting as well as about their duration of stay. The mother said she wanted to stay for a month, while the daughter said, she'd rather stay for three months.

The immigration officer was only too happy to settle it for them by giving them only one day before taking the next flight home.

Then there's the simple case of not knowing who you're visiting. A young boy was all excited when invited by his aunt to visit her in London. He was asked his aunt's name but could only offer Mak Ngah and could not even recall her full name. On top of that he didn't even know her full address. It was not what the immigration wanted to hear but it certainly gave them enough grounds to send him packing.

It is all very well for us here to invite relatives to come for a holiday. But I have learnt that it is also our duty and responsibilities to supply our visitor with as much information about ourselves as possible in case our intended guests are stopped and subjected to questions. Be definite about how long you want to stay and what you want to do. Give strong reasons why you want to go back and not stay to find work. If you have work waiting for you, say so. If need be...an employer's letter, your bank statements , whatever! Show them that you are not here to be a burden on their welfare system.

It is sad and frustrating when your reasons and intentions are genuine. My own mother was subjected to such a treatment that I never wanted her to visit me again.

It all began when my nephew wanted to visit. He had enough money, place to stay and even us in attendance when he applied for a visa. BUT the officer concerned saw that I was pregnant, and made up her mind that my nephew was coming with us to help us babysit. Thus a lengthy interview about his intentions for visiting. Even when he showed the amount of money he had, the officer concerned was not satisfied and wanted to see his account book to see that he had actually withdrawn the money from there. And as if that was not sufficient, a letter from his employer. As his employer was in Penang, he said, could he return the next day with the letter? The answer was yes, but swift as a lighting, she put a chop cancelling the visa. Now that would look good, wouldn't it...a cancelled visa!

The next day, with employer's letter AND bank book, he saw another officer - but because of the cancelled visa - he was again subjected to another lengthy interrogation. Finally he was given exactly a month.

Then when my own mother wanted to visit, I truly believe they had my record on their file. They made her sign a letter saying she would not extend her stay no matter what. This we did not know until we found a letter with her signature. Now, my mother could not read nor write and so how on earth was she to understand what she had signed?

There was also a case of a young girl who was asked by the sister to come here to babysit. She was briefed, of course and she was just to say that she was visiting a friend, and NO, she did not have any relatives. Th eofficer asked for her address book. And because her surname matched one in the address book, she too headed for home.

Many, many more - especially those who mentioned visiting relatives who have restaurants and businesses here. These officers can't be blamed for being overzealous in carrying out their duties. I am sure that when you mention a name of a restaurant, a business and the location, that usually rings alarm bells for them.

There's plenty - one funny on about a film crew who came with obvious intentions to do filming but did not ask prior permission. When questioned at the airport, they said the huge big cameras were for recording their children on holiday!

A sad case I heard recently was that of a boy on whose person some letters were found. One letter was written by his sister, who invited him over to work. The other was from his mother - the contents broke my heart as I translated it for the officer. A mother's hope that the son could find employment to help her and her invalid husband in the kampong. Common sense could have told him to leave the letter behind. But better still, given his age, he need not have gone through all that pretense of coming for a holiday when all he wanted to do was work.

As a young man of only 23, and coming from Malaysia, he could easily come in as a tourist, then enrol as a student and with that, he is allowed to work a maximum of 20 hours. It's all legal.
And that saves the trouble of having to play the cat-and-mouse game that most illegals play with the authorities.

Then, there is of course the Working Holidaymakers Scheme. Now, why this is not widely known is quite puzzling. Under this scheme, if you're aged between 17 and 27 and you're from a Commonwealth country, you're allowed to come to Britain to holiday as well as work.

However, this will need to be applied from home and once given, you can stay for two years. Of course, participants of this scheme have no right to bring in their spouse nor switch into work permit employment at the end of the two years. They will also need to have their return ticket.
However, recognising what migrant workers have to offer, the Government had also raised the age limit to 30 and the term of stay extended and area of employment be expanded.

Under the Holidaymakers scheme, nearly 40,000 young people from the Commonwealth come to Britain for a holiday of up to two years. They can work in restaurants, hotels and generally in low-skilled employment and at the same time experience life in Britain.

In 1990, according to reports released by the British Home Office , only 30 Malaysians participated and in 2000, the number rose to only 120. Yet, many would rather try their luck illegally.

The British Government realise that by having this organised and properly-managed legal migration, they are not only solving recruitment problems but also tackling the issue of illegal immigrants.

Day after day, asylum seekers and illegal immigrants risk their lives to come into Britain to find work. Once they succeed in gaining entry, they find work. But what kind of life does one lead when at the very whiff of an official figure, one jumps out of the nearest window? It is so unnecessary, especially when these two schemes make it possible for one to work and at the same time enjoy one's holidays. But perhaps, for some, there is no excitement in this!

Finally, I'll leave you with this joke thatleft a funny taste in one visitor's mouth When asked by the Sikh immigration officer at Heathrow how long he was staying, this joker said: Not as long as you!

Because he had the necessary papers BUT because the officer has the power to interrogate him, he was questioned for three hours before allowed out.

So, please, be prepared, be sure and precise about what you are here for. And bring the right papers. If you are not sure, contact the BritishHigh Commission. Ask. Its not easy anymore.

35 comments:

Sunflora said...

Kak teh! Good article! This reminded me of this book written by an ex immigration officer at Terminal 3 at Heathrow (I can't remember his name and now I wished I bought his book). I read a review where he mentioned that they access a would be illegal immigrant by their shoes! If there were tassles on the person's shoes somehow that would make the immigration officers suspicious.

Anonymous said...

dearie kak teh....an old friend of mine encountered the same problem. he was deported right after he stepped into heathrow! to make matters worse, until today he did not get his luggage and this happend almost 3 years ago!

-princess-

Kak Teh said...

sunflora; that would make interesting reading. Will try to find it when i go to heathrow/
princess: that is really bad. but we are really at their mercy. thanks for visiting.

iJun said...

That is so so so bad... my friends and family have been lucky so far. Whatever happened to good old plain English courtesy??? This is abomination!! Huh huh marah ney!!

Woman at the well said...

Your post was very helpful, it will certainly do a good job. It´s terrible and it seems to be happening everywhere, I mean, in all "developed countries."
I even wonder if one day we won´t be able to visit at all ...

d'arkampo said...

Aiseh kak teh...

kensel lah nak pi migrate to London.

Agak-agak naik tongkang boleh tak?

SC said...

even i f u do try to write to them, chances are u would be directed to a web address fr which u obtained the suggestion to write in for further details.i guess the better bet is to work with the immigration themselves to understand y some ppl can be so uptight huh?

Kak Teh said...

Ijun, yes - u've been lucky and as for me...not too bad either although even with PR they do ask a lot of questions still.
woman at the well: yes, I think the most important thing is to have the right papers and be very very certain about what you say and what you want to do during your visit.
po: naik tongkang! huh, nanti kak teh kena buat special reporting oon that pulak!
sc: like i said , we are really at thier mercy. I supposed we shd understand that there' so many knocking on their door. But I really pity the genuine family who wanted to come for a holiday and enjoy a bit of england. and to be subjected to body search!! hisssh!

fiena said...

kak teh, nak tanyalah. My bother is actually working in Huntingdon sekarang ni and his wife will be joining him to do her PHD this coming Aug. Bole ke dia bawak sekali orang gaji dia? From your article, macam susah ajer....

Kak Teh said...

fiena, I am sorry if this gives an impression that it is difficult. Like I said, do ask. I don't know - but I have heard that if the helper has been with the employer for sometime than she has a better case. Pls contact the HC and enquire.

Lollies said...

Good write up and tips. I'll remember what you've said..

sunflower said...

Dear Kak Teh,
We never encountered problem such as what you mentioned. Hopefully not even in the future. Or maybe the immigration are so fussy when they saw malaysian passport? But thanks for the reminder.

CikNi said...

loh, cik tak tau pulak lagu tu noh..

shidah said...

next time nak pi uk, tak leh la nak cakap pi visit kak teh, nanti depa suspect i nak jadi jadi maid kak teh lak :).....

ish, i cannot post in my blog la kak teh.... apa ubat problem kak teh ari tu ?

Atok said...

Very common problem. A few friends dah kena camni. Especially young visitors, silap jawab > habis. The sad thing is, not that they're coming to work (which is a BIG NO-NO and deserve one a next flight home), just that silap jawab je. And this 'silap jawab' is mainly due to tak paham slang omputeh tanya soalan (kadang tu saja depa tanya a bit berbelit, nak trap).

fiena,
kalau the domestic helper dah kerja at least 1 year with you, shouldn't be a problem. nevertheless, kena go thru normal process: interview, etc at British Embassy (jangan dtg without visa, and expect to get one at the airport).

frankly, we have been receiving lots and lots of emails/questions pasal nak dtg sini over the past years.

i nak start a blog advising (giving guide & tips, etc) org2 yg nak masuk sini... dah start tapi belum ada posting.

Kak Teh said...

lollies: thanks...memang it helps to be prepared. kalau tidak rugi duit tiket and masa ,lpeas tu bila bawa budak2 nak holiday all you get is disappointment.
sunflower: you are welcome. satu lagi kak teh nak tulis is abt food yang boleh dan tak boleh bawak masuk.
cikni...kalau nak mai,baik siap betoi2.
shidah: kak teh pun tak mampu nak ada maid! macam mana? oh u have problems with blog? cuba remove cookies!
atok: TERIMA KASIH...memang banyak orang tanya mengenai hal ni..boleh ke tak boleh ke. bagus kalau ada site yang boleh membantu.
betul juga pasal slang and brit accent tu...kalau dah tak faham nak buat macam mana? my mum terus kena tahan sebab tak faham English!

Atok said...

kak teh,
a year ago, a group of friends kena tahan 3-4 hours. just becoz silap jawab (pasal tak faham) and to make the matter worst, depa jumpa card 'mawar restaurant' yg diberikan oleh kawan mereka yg datang earlier, i.e. bagitahu mana tempat nak makan. but then, the bahlol immigration officer accused them nak gi kerja at mawar, pulak dah.

Kak Teh said...

teruknya! that means kad tempat makan pun tak boleh bawak?? ni dah melampau! lagi satu kak teh nak peringatkan...kalau cakap nama tempat biar betul. misalnya, kalau kata nak duduk somewhere near oxford street, jangan kata oxford - sebab oxford tu jauh. Banyak orang kata oxford when they mean oxford road...jadi, immigration dia buat tak tahu saja. nanti dia tanya pulak address di oxford...ha dah jadi tak betul dan keliru. banyak, memang banyak cerita begini!

Ms.B said...

Gosh. I thought only the US of A was crazy. Never heard of stories like this from the UK! Hmm. So much for me thinking that the Brits are more civilised and understanding as compared to the Yankees, eh? *smiles*

Ms.B said...

Oh, and is "beta-blogger" ton significant other? I nearly died star-struck when I saw his comment on me blog! Harf!

Susan Abraham said...

Hi Kak Teh,
I thank my lucky stars that I have had good treatment with immigration but my answers are always precise and I think also as you walk up to them, the officers do study body language very quickly, it's important to look well and healthy, dress well (in spite of that long tiredness on the plane) and also be confident. The last time I came in, I saw one lady stopped and questioned because she was dressed inappopriately for winter. So that is how its like these days. They notice everything!
regards

Atok said...

as we know, entering the States with 'bin' or 'mohd' in the passport would result oneself being asked to step aside. one friend went thru all the routine checks and questions, and thank God allowed to go thru. leaving the immigration officer, he asked, "what about dust bin?".

MassyLassy said...

Kak Teh!!! The first time that I arrive in Manchaster Airport to visit my hubby, I was sooo nervous! It didn't help either when the officer ask me all these bizarre questions like what kind of marriage is this if you're both in different countries, why did you get married in the first place and all sorts... Fortunately, I gave them the answers that they want to hear & lucky I remember my in-laws address & that took about 10 - 15 minutes of interrogation!!! Still, Soo Malu!!!

Kak Teh said...

blabs - US of A tok sah cakaplah. Atok is right - nama macam kita ni habislah.
Oh yes - so the beta-half went there -. I saw. I sent you an email as well when i couldn't post on yr blog.
susa: yes, that helps. dress well. jangan selekeh. It helps to watch the airport programme as well.
msbizwack: lucky you! i have heard horror stories abt this as well.

MakNenek said...

once, a friend of my aunt's who was travelling with her to U.S, was asked to take a plane back immediately after 24 hours flight! this is the first time i hear of such stories from the U.K. leceh kalau nak ke sana without visa. but those cases of illegal immigrants are genuine and problematic to the govt, not to mention, to its residence.

narfnarf said...

Wow. The last time I was in England was Christmas 03, and I was there for about three weeks to visit some friends in Bristol. I had no idea how lucky I was to not have gone through such interrogations. I'll definitely make sure I have the appropriate papers and all that the next time round.

Mutiara said...

Well..well..well. My husband nearly had a fight with the immigration personnel at LAX. I had to calm him down and did what I was told to do, went from one desk to another to another...That with the Permanent Resident /Green card.
Atok: American do not understand/know what "dust bin" is...They call 'thrash can' here. A handbag is a purse and a purse is a wallet.

budakkampong said...

kalau i nak pi england kan kak teh i nak berenang je lah...

zaireen said...

Kak Teh,
One of my friend is going to UK, next month. Thanks to highlight this! I'll ensure that he prepares all those important papers..What more, he has middle-east feature... Else...phew..

Kak Teh said...

maknenek, it is so true. Sometimes because of a few, genuine tourists, like the family in the story, have to suffer.
narf: its only quite recently that they have tightened the rules as well and also, we really cant blame them. we are also suffering same fate back home in malaysia as immigrants come by the droves.
mutiara: really, we cant win with them...so, kena go slow.
budakkampong: nak berenang? tengok those people who came in vegetable and fruit trucks tu...what happened to them?
zaireen: yes, its best to be prepared.

pompit said...

Hi kak teh .. my aunt came to visit me during my student days and the immigration officers were not amused at all with the packs of sambal ikan bilis she brought with her ...!! ..she was "interviewed" for a good two hours or so ... BTW .. I do enjoy yr blog ..

bird said...

alhamdulillah, i've never had any problems with immigration officers (yet).. but i am totally jinxed when it comes to the officers in the home office and british high commision. funny thing is, i always receive good treatment from the english officers.. the ones who hung up on me and raised their voices to me were immigrants working for the british government. how weird is that?

pembacha said...

this is what they are up to now? i remember reading the newspaper at heathrow about them wanting tighter immigration control, this coming from a minister who is an immigrant son (or himself is an immigrant) - but never expected this "control" extended to Malaysians.

Anonymous said...

As a Brit I am really disgusted with the way the British immigiration system are currently 'working'. Me and my fiance didn't have time nor money to gain a visa and he just wanted to explore the country first before settling down there. He bought he certs along and it was perfect timing for a long holiday as he had just resigned from a backbreaking job. We had no idea that the Brits had all of a sudden turned into a bunch of nosey CIA agents paranoid about their precious little industrial workforce which is full of underpaid migrants from Europe (definately not British!) anyway. We spent hours at transit, tons of cash and planning and lots of hopes of a great holiday in my home country I used to speak so highly of. And what did we get? A POXY little young man bombarding us with personal questions we were too aghast to answer. If the bloody immigration system want their bloody answers they ought to learn some manners first before judging others from a country that isn't so high and mighty as GREY Britain. My fiance was accused of planning to work in UK ILLEGALLY which is NOT TRUE. He only packed to little bags of clothes which the so called officers shouldn't even have searched in the first place! And as for illegal immirgants, they needn't have worried as it clearly stated qualified Engineer on those certificates that refused his entry! And for he had a return ticket that was valid for amonth which gave him enough time to explore the country and make up his mind on whether it was for him or no. I clearly told the officers that he was on holiday and they refused to believe me which just goes to show that the immigration department have NO RESPECT for their Commonwealth citizens not their OWN! So here's a wee bit of advice for those planning to have a holiday in Britain. Get that VISA or prepared to be booted out.

Anonymous said...

I've entered UK 3 times and i can consider myself very lucky as i have never been made to answer more than 3 or 4 questions. Even more lucky as i am young and was travelling alone on two oacssions .However, those were questions that i can do without or questions that whites will not get. I am aware of the dillema of Malaysians at UK border control. Just type in Immigration control UK in google and you can see how many malaysians are refused entry in 2005. 1130. check this out http://www.official-documents.co.uk/document/cm66/6690/6690.asp This is only going to get worse not better. I will fly to Paris if i want to visit UK again and take the train there. Immigration in Paris cant be bothered asking me a single question when i passed through. The UK immigration at chanel tunnel merely asked me how long i am going to stay when i passed through. I am very perturbed and disturbed by the fact that some of the Malaysians that were refused entry are repeat visitors. They are the last people you expect to be refused entry. That is why i will not take the risk in Heathrow ever again. this is worth checking out as well http://www.ind.homeoffice.gov.uk/6353/aboutus/independantracemonitor.pdf