Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Empathy? Or, Perhaps Lack Of It?

A lot has changed since my last post - I convocated and officially am an MBA - yay!
I made a trip to Toronto and am back in SF now. Both, the events came with at a certain level of weird experience at the border.

I flew back to Toronto for 2 days in order to attend my MBA convocation ceremony. I had a strange feeling in my tummy the entire time I was there. I was nervous that I would be stopped at the border. I am not sure how, but I am always right about these weird feelings. And, bam, here is how the conversation went:


Officer A: How are you two related?
Hitesh: She is my wife.

Officer: What do you do in the US?
Hitesh: I am a consultant.

Officer: Why are you going to SF?
Hitesh: I am working on a project.

Officer: Please have your left index finger on the machine and take off your glasses for the picture.
Hitesh: Complies.

Officer: Stamps his passport and done!


Officer: How are you two related?
Shalu: (Thinking) "Didn't he just ask us that"?
Shalu: (Talking) We are married.

Officer: Are you on H1B as well?
Shalu: Um no.

Officer: Do you have a visa?
Shalu: (Thinking) "What?? I have a Canadian passport, did the rules change in the last 2 days...I don't need a visa..."
Shalu: (Talking) I don't think I need a visa.

Officer: (patronizing tone) Is that right?
Shalu: (Thinking) "Oh no!the conversation will go downhill from here"
Shalu: (Talking) Well, do I?

Officer: Do you guys live together?
Shalu: (Thinking) "OMG, trick question..trick question...do not answer"
Shalu: (Talking) Well, I am going on a vacation.
Officer: You haven't answered my question.
Shalu: (Talking) I look at Hitesh, who gives me a very charming smile...I keep looking at him, smile, and answer,"Yes, we do!"

Officer: (Expressionless) -> makes a note and sends us for secondary inspection.

As expected, the secondary inspection officer was convinced that since my husband works in the US and that I am a Canadian Citizen, there was no way that I was ever coming back to Canada.

He asked me for a marriage certificate.
He made me buy a return ticket.
He stamped a return date on my passport. As a Canadian citizen, you do NOT get stamped ever. You can visit US conveniently.
He was super friendly after I bought the ticket and adviced me to go on H4!

Well, obviously I was upset. Anyhow, I came back to SF.

A few things happened in that experience that made me wonder whether the officer 's concern was accurate.
  • The answer to the question,"Do you two live together?" should have been,"Yes, we did in Canada, but not in the US". Perhaps, that may not have made me look like a liar! However, I felt that it was a catch 22 situation - had I said, "No", he would have argued that we are not married since we did not have our marriage certificate on us.
  • Later, I found out that the intent of an H4 and a Canadian visit's to US is pretty close. The officer's concern was that in order to legally stay in US and visit Hitesh many times, I should go on H4 rather than travel as a Canadian.
Perhaps, I should empathize with the officer. For his part, he was ensuring that the number of legal entrants in the US can be tracked down. For his part, he was also ensuring that he "protects" the border. I understand where he is coming from.

Question: Why does US have a NAFTA treaty with Canada and Mexico if it wants people to go on H4? Why is everyone viewed as a threat? I fail to understand how my visiting US as a Canadian citizen any different than being on an H4. I cannot work or do anything else in the US on either of the visas. On the contrary, an H4 encourages me to stay in the US??!?

I am confused.

My intention was to stay until the end of August. The officer was not accurate in his judgment.
I have until the end of July to decide whether or not I want to go on an H4. I wish the officer had empathized with my situation as well - Of course, Hitesh and I live with each other - we are married. Perhaps, a better question from the officer's part should have been,"Where do you guys live?" and not "Do you live with each other?"

Lessons learned from that experience:

A. Never travel without your marriage certificate - a ring on your finger is not enough.
B. Never look at Hitesh while crossing the border and get floored by his smile!

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