United States: Visa issues being investigated

United States Customs and Border Protection says it is looking into reports that Caymanians travelling on a United Kingdom passport through Miami and with valid visa waivers have been told they need visas. 

In the case of Caymanian Sandra Catron, she was told she was travelling ‘too much’ and ‘abusing the system’ as a frequent visitor to the United States. 

“They told me that the visa waiver programme was not for people from the islands, such as myself, but for Europeans who do not travel to the US as often and that I was abusing the system,” she said. 

“The official said he was going to put a note in the system that I was going to get a regular visitor’s visa and should either go to Jamaica and the Bahamas to get that. It is very bizarre. If there has been a shift in policy then people should be advised.” 

However, Chuck Prichard, public affairs officer at the United States Customs and Border Protection, told the Compass that frequency of travel should not be an issue under the authorisation agreement, which the United Kingdom is signed up to. 

“There is no specific regulation against that; there are specific rules that you cannot stay more than 90 days, but frequency of travel is a new one on me,” he said. “If that was put out [by officers] then that would need to be revisited. 

“I will pass this along to the director of field operations for Customs and Border Protection and make them aware of it,” Mr. Prichard said. “We are constantly training all our officers on proper procedures and it may be a simple matter of miscommunication. But if you follow all the rules, frequency of travel really should not be an issue.” 

 

Extenuating circumstances  

Mr. Prichard did say that there may be circumstances under which a visa might be required. 

“Under the Electronic System for Travel Authorisation programme the approval does not take the place of an actual visa; it is within the purview of a Customs and Border Protection officer if they determine, based upon the facts they see, that the person needs to apply for a visa,” he said. “Just because you have an ESTA it does not give you carte blanche to come and go for two years. 

“There can be a variety of things; status change, passport expired, change of name,” Mr. Prichard said.  

“Just because you have ESTA approval does not necessarily mean you can come and go without possible other circumstances. If you get a new passport or the traveller changes name, country of citizenship or gender 
[then a new ESTA will be needed.]” 

An ESTA may only be used with the passport under which the permit was issued, he added, so it would not be possible to apply under a United Kingdom passport and then try and use a Cayman Islands passport for travel, for example. 

John Douglas, who possesses a valid ESTA, told the Compass that he was in transit to Canada through Miami but he had been erroneously flagged up as an overstayer in the United States system, leading back to 1974. 

“I have never overstayed in the United States – so I had to write to Virginia and get them to take this off my record and they told me in Miami to go to Jamaica and get a visa then I would have no problems, which is what 
I did,” he said.  

“All I wanted was two hours to get on the next plane and get out of there; I only wanted to go to Canada but I missed my plane [because of this].”  

 

There’s no limit  

Under the terms of the Electronic System for Travel Authorisation, “Each approved ESTA application generally is valid for two years and allows for multiple visits to the United States within that period without having to apply for another ESTA approval.” 

An official at Miami International Airport Customs and Border Control, who said he could not be named for security reasons, also confirmed that there was no limit on the amount of visits an individual could make under the visa waiver programme. 

“That is not an issue once you have been approved for travel – you can come as many times as you want per year. You cannot live here and come for 90 days, then 90 days, then 90 days – 
that would be abusing the system. 

“But if you have an approved ESTA you can come as many times as you like.” 

UK passports

Holders of a UK passport are eligible for the visa waiver agreement to enter the United States. The ESTA form enables unlimited entry for two years but Caymanians travelling are reporting issues at Miami International Airport. – Photo: File
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5 COMMENTS

  1. I had exactly the same problem in December. Stopped at immigration and told in no uncertain terms I was abusing the system due to the frequency of my visits (mainly in transit to Europe or elsewhere in the Caribbean) rather than business trips to the US. My passport, ESTA etc is all fine and I have never overstayed a visa. Notes were added to my profile according to the guard that I had been told to get a full visa. I duly went and got a visa in London (actually a very easy and efficient process) and flew back to Cayman through Miami. At immigration a different officer said ‘why have you got this visa? You don’t need it’. So I now have a shiny new US B1 business/tourist visa valid for 10 years which all told with flights and hotels and applications has set me back a few thousand dollars. Next time I transit through Miami I will try and pick out the original guard and suggest to him that he learns how to do his job. Oh, and I’ll ask him for a refund as well. It’s a shame and shambles that this situation has arisen within the US authorities but its very good that something appears to be being done about it in terms of policy clarification.

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  2. Nothing new about US immigration officers being ignorant and heavy handed.
    Some of them are on a power trip and like making people squirm.

    My daughter and son-in-law travel to Florida from the UK about 4 times a year. They live in London but have a home in Tampa.

    His job, for a UK company, is Internet based and can be done anywhere.

    They still get the 3rd degree about why are they coming so often, how can they take so much time off work etc.

    I told him to tell them that by coming to the USA and spending their money there they are supporting the economy. Which certainly needs support.
    They are valued customers of the USA who should be welcomed.

    I think he toned this down a bit. But it’s true.

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  3. I had an issue similarly like that in December 2010 however,the differencce is I was actually using my Cayman passport with my visa. The Immigration officer at Miami International airport saw that I had my UK passport in my passport holder, and without asking my permission or even asking for it, he reached out and took my UK passport.

    He asked me why I had another passport and I told him that I am Caymanian and the Cayman Islands is a british overseas territory and I am therefore considered to be british as well as a Caymanian. Therefore under our laws we are allowed to legally own a UK passport and our Caymanian passport.

    Mind you, I got my U.S.visa renewed in my Cayman passport April of 2009 and resumed using my Cayman passport immediately and hadn’t used my UK passport since and that whatis I told him but he decided to literally get upset about it.

    He said that he was going to put a note in the system on my record, that if I was ever seen with.or using my UK passport again or before 2019 when my visa expires that I would be arrested upon arrival and eventually sent home.I kindly asked him, how can that be true if I legally have both and, they are both in the system and has never ever had issues with any other officer or airport in the states until I came to you, and you shock me with this new rule.

    I also told him that my country is very good with informing us about new travel advisories and if this were a new policy we would have already been informed. I then asked him, what would happen if my Cayman passport or visa was lost or accidently misplaced and I needed to come to the states using my UK passport? He didn’t answer me but told me if I had a problem with him or the rule, that I could speak to his supervisor,gave me both of my passports after putting some note in the system and sent me on my way.

    I was shocked and furious beyond consolation! I finally calmed and got my thoughts together two days later, I called the U.S. State Department and spoke to an investigator, who informed that the officer did not have the right to threaten me with an arrest for owning a UK passport, because I, as a british citizen from the UK or OS territory has the absolute right to own both, and are legally allowed to travel to the U.S. with both if I so choose to. He also said if I wanted to use both I could do so at anytime.It is just preferred however that if you do have a valid visa, that they would rather you use it consistently until it expires, but it wasnt a mandatory thing, it is just preferred. He said that I shouldn’t worry about it but he will have it looked into.

    Upon returning home to Cayman, I made my issue aware to the Governor’s Office. I have heard from them in almost a year but i hope to eventually get an answer.

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  4. This is terrible! As a citizen of the United States, I’m appalled. Not making excuses but because of the events of September 11, 2001, the whole of the country has become psychotic — especially all of those who happen to carry a badge … even fire department personnel. There are times when I want to grab these idiots (who think that they are in charge) and scream in their ears, Use your brains, that’s what they’re there for! But then again, they’re not hired to think, they are there to intimidate. I really want to say to most of them, How does it feel to be ‘hired out, from the neck down’?.

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