I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday season! One of the many advantages of being married to a German is that we often spend Christmastime in Germany. In addition to seeing my in-laws, who I only get to visit once a year, I get to experience a new culture and step outside my normal comfort zone.
Now, to be fair, Germany and the United States are close cultural cousins. Both countries have Santa, both sing “O Tannenbaum,” and both have special church services on December 24th. But, there are still many differences. For example, my family in Kansas opens presents on the morning on the 25th, whereas in Germany, presents are delivered and opened in the evening of the 24th. Another difference is the food. From my childhood, I remember green bean casserole, turkey, ham, sweet potatoes with brown sugar. And, if there was room, a slice of my mom’s pecan pie. A German Christmas menu consists of sausages, potato salad, goose, red cabbage, and croquettes…Are you hungry, yet?!
But, what strikes me as an immigration attorney is how the United States and Europe handle their port of entries (immigration inspection at the airport). I flew to Germany without a thought of preparation. I have my U.S. passport, but no special visa. I didn’t even think to print out my return flight confirmation. I presented myself at the inspection point in Amsterdam, wasn’t asked a single question, and I was inspected and admitted to the European Union. No one gave me a deadline to leave by, no one told me if I could work, go to school, or asked about my marital status.
I cannot imagine a much more different experience than coming to the United States. When a foreign national – even a lawful permanent resident – enters the United States, fingerprints are taken and an immediate background check is done.
Customs and Border Protection (CBP) decide if the visa you were granted by the U.S. Department of State matches your true intent in coming to the country – are you really coming as a tourist, or are you may be planning on getting married and staying more than 90 days? If you have a close family member who is a U.S. citizen, you had better be prepared to show your intent to return home, otherwise, CBP may presume you intend to stay in the country forever. Nothing is guaranteed.
To be safe, I always tell clients to print out their return tickets – something we often don’t think about when boarding passes can be scanned off of our phones. As a country, we are much more suspicious of our visitors than they seemed to be throughout Europe.
The way one place inspects their visitors may not be right for another place. It’s just an interesting observation I had as I crossed borders this past week.