Continued Immigration Adventures of a Citizen of the World

WARNING: boring entry follows, but I feel like I have to post it anyway because it really happened. And plus, I may end up getting some visitor from search engines this way. Summary: Canadian border patrol is lax and US border patrol is totalitarian and not always well-trained. You may now stop reading any time after this point and I will not be offended.

I’ve lived in the United States since 1991, and after a series of visas (F-1, TN-1, H-1B) finally got my green card last year, so I’ve been an outlier for quite some time. I have seen a lot of confused border guards try to figure out on the fly if I’m legal without letting on to me that they don’t really know the regulations all that well. Often they take out their uneasy feeling of confusion on me because I’m handy.

Today I flew back from Vancouver after a short visit to Canada, the country I was born in.

Canadian passports expire annoyingly frequently, being good for only five years. My most recent passport expires in August 2007, so after a trip in May, I sent it in to get renewed. Higher than normal traffic at the passport office means that I had not received my new passport when it was time to leave for this trip, so I researched regulations (which, as it has been widely publicized, had recently been tightened to required passports for most travelers between the US and Canada) in a detailed way prior to leaving.

I was quite certain that permanent residents of the US were allowed to enter the US with just a green card (as I did on my visit to Canada in May), but was less certain about Canada. For once, I was more worried about getting into Canada than getting into the US!

I investigated and found

which seems to hint (but not conclusively imply) that a US green card is enough to enter Canada.

Just for good measure, I thought I would double-check the US requirements. I found that according to that my green card was enough. It said, in part that

U.S. Lawful Permanent Residents (LPRs) must provide one of the following:

  • I-551, Permanent Resident Card (“Green Card”)

OK. I have one.

Also page 7 of

EXPLICITLY states that

“Lawful Permanent Residents are NOT required to have a passport.”

Just for good measure, this PDF file shows pictures of the documents required, and the green card is enough for departure and entry by air.

I know, I know… overkill in the research department. Chill, Richard! Don’t be so paranoid. Right?

Then I took my trip. United Airlines automated check-in flying out of the US requires a passport, so I had to stand in line and deal with a counter clerk. Very annoying. Good thing I got there early. Then after landing in Canada, I gave the border agent there my green card and said that I’d applied for a passport and was still waiting for it. No prob.

Flying back to the US. The Vancouver airport lets you pass US immigration before you take off. Handy. The line was huge, and I handed the guy my green card. He asked me if I had a passport and I said no. He says, “Are you familiar with the new passport regulations?” Then he proudly hands me a slip of paper with the new regulations on it that reads AND I QUOTE:

“Beginning on January 23, 2007, all persons – including U.S. citizens – traveling by air from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Bermuda will be required to have a passport (unless traveling with a U.S. Permanent Resident Card, asylee or refugee document, Merchant Mariner’s Document, or NEXUS Air card) to enter the United States.”

I could tell he was happy about having caught what he thought was just another scofflaw. He says “Everyone needs a passport.” I stammered lamely “But… but… I have a green card?” He says, “Doesn’t matter.” Never mind that I could point out the part in parentheses on the slip of paper HE JUST HANDED ME to prove him wrong. “Here,” he says, sliding the piece of paper a little closer. “Keep that.”

I could tell his guard dropped and he was going to let me through, but I was still stammering. I explained that I’ve applied for a renewal and I’m still waiting and no, I didn’t have any proof that I’ve applied for a renewal (I don’t know what proof I’m supposed to get). I show him my passport that expired ten years ago that I brought along just in case. Still beaming at trapping me, he finally lets me pass.

Not that it matters — I suspect if he’d escalated me to the secondary room where questionable cases go, I would have gotten through pretty quick with someone who actually knows what the regulations are. Er. Maybe.

Viva bureaucracy!

One thought on “Continued Immigration Adventures of a Citizen of the World

  1. Glad I found this entry. Didn’t find it boring at all, since I’m now in a panic 10 days before going to Canada for Christmas. Passport Canada let my file gather dust for three weeks in a corner, so am now going into week 14 of waiting to get my new passport. A Canadian friend told me that her husband found out he could have gotten in and out with just his green card, so I thought I’d double check online.

    My issue is? For some reason, despite being female, clean cut and not having a record of any kind, US customs agents smell the fear on me and deny me for the most ridiculous things and send me almost EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. to the secondary room.

    I’m terrified of getting trapped. But I guess I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it, right?

    Glad to hear you had no issues getting into Canada though.

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