When arriving in a foreign country at the end of a long journey, travellers may not be in the best state to deal with clearing customs and immigration. This usually involves completing a form, and some of the questions can be unclear. The US ‘I-94W Nonimmigrant Visa Waiver Arrival/Departure Form’ asks the following doozies:

I-94W Nonimmigrant Visa Waiver Arrival/Departure Form (Image courtesy of Magalie L’Abbe @ Flickr)

B. Have you ever been arrested or convicted for an offence or crime involving moral turpitude or a violation related to a controlled substance; or have been arrested or convicted for two or more offences for which the aggregate sentence to confinement was five years or more; or been a controlled substance trafficker, or are you seeking entry to engage in criminal activities?

C. Have you ever been or are you now involved in espionage or sabotage; or in terrorist activities; or genocide; or between 1933 and 1945 were involved, in any way, in persecutions associated with Nazi Germany or its allies?

What the heck is moral turpitude? Also, would you need to answer ‘yes’ to the Nazi Germany questions if you were a victim of the 1933-1945 persecutions?

Thankfully the I-94W Form has been replaced by the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) which is completed online prior to travel rather than when exhausted on arrival at the airport. The ESTA has simplified the questions above, but still asks:

4) Do you seek to engage in or have you ever engaged in terrorist activities, espionage, sabotage, or genocide?

If you seek to engage in terrorist activities, espionage, sabotage, or genocide, wouldn’t you be better off lying on the form, as if you are found out, lying on your immigration form is sure to be the lesser offence. As far as espionage goes, surely the first rule of espionage is: You don’t talk about espionage.

The ESTA application has become more invasive in recent years, now asking for the names of an applicant’s parents, details of all citizenships, passports and national identity cards held, and contact details for your current or previous employer. Are they going to call your ex-boss to see if they should let you into the US?

Canada have jumped on the bandwagon in 2016, and now require visitors to have an Electronic Travel Authorization (eTA). Questions are not quite as invasive as the ESTA in that no parental or employment details are required, but you must include details of all citizenships held and specify the funds you have for your trip.

US Immigration carefully scrutinise travellers entering the US and it was with this in mind that I approached the Immigration Officer in Chicago on a recent trip. I was expecting to be asked if I was in the country for business or pleasure so when the Immigration Officer asked “what is the purpose of your visit”, I blurted out “pleasure”. I realised this sounded odd, so added “I’m here to meet my husband”, which made it sound like I was a mail-order bride. At this point it seemed a good idea to emphasise that I wasn’t planning to stay long so I finished with “we both leave on Monday”. The Immigration Officer gave me a bemused look and waved me through. I get the feeling it wasn’t the weirdest conversation he’d had with a passenger.