Revisiting The Absurd : Do You Have A Visa To Work Here? I Live Here

There are many oddities in international travel, often occurring with Immigrations and Customs.  Today I ran across  Sexism at the border: A personal account by Clay Nikiforuk, which annoyed me to no end. Whether or not all the details of her story are accurate, the issues in the story bother me. The story is not one for those who easily pass moral judgment, for me, I honed in on the questions of a non-illegal moral nature the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) that have no bearding on entry into the United States and false statements from the US CBP Officer to the traveler


So today I decided to dig into my archives, all the way back to May 26th 2008, where I wrote about one of the oddest encounters I’ve had with U.S. Customs and Border Protection.  So … here we go, Do You Have A Visa To Work Here? Ummm … I Live Here (Humour From Real Life)


Yesterday afternoon, after arriving back home at New York’s JFK International Airport (JFK), from Beijing (PEK), I deplaned the Air China (CA) flight I had taken home and headed down to the Immigrations Passport Control area. When it was my turn I approached the US Immigrations Officer and handed her my United States issued Passport and “landing card,” and what happened next had me stunned.


Before I go further with the unusual events of yesterday’s return to the United States, after only being away for 70 hours, I’d like to state this. I have the utmost respect for those who work in the Immigrations, Customs and Border Protection services of not only the United States but also other nations around the world. They have a difficult job of determining who should and should not be allowed into their respective countries.


In my career as a news photographer, I had spent more than 3 years documenting ‘homeland security,’ both domestically and abroad. I have witnessed some unusual situations, watched some funny moments, and seen agents go to extraordinary lengths to catch criminals entering the United States. I also know I have some very odd travel patterns and am accustomed to extra questioning at times. I take it in stride … but the questioning I received yesterday was bizarre.


So on with the story…I handed my US Passport and ‘landing card’ to the US Immigrations Officer at the passport control booth and was asked the standard questions of “You were away on business?” I replied, “Yes.” The next question is the obvious questions “What do you do?” I replied that I am a photographer and I had been in Hong Kong photographing a wedding. The Immigrations Officer asked me if I worked in the United States and I said “yes.” The Immigrations Officer then asked if I was connecting to another flight and I informed her that my family was waiting for me outside and I was headed to my see my parents before heading home (not that I had to tell her that, but I was just making polite conversation).


The next question threw me for a loop. As the Immigrations Officers flipped through my passport pages she asked, “Do you have a visa to work here in the US?” I informed the Immigrations Officer that she was looking at my passport that was issued by the United States, that I was born in New York, and that I was a US Citizen, as such I require no papers to work in the United States. The Immigrations Officer looked up and glared at me as if I had significantly angered her with my reply. She flipped through my passport pages again and demanded to know if I had a visa or permit that would allow me to work in the United States. This round of questioning and answering went on for another minute or two.


After a few more back-and-forth words that went nowhere the Immigrations Officer summoned a Supervisor. The Immigrations Supervisor looked confused as to why they were there, once they were informed of the situation, after approaching the Passport Control Booth. The Immigrations Supervisor had my passport in his hand when the Immigrations Officer I had been arguing with stated “He has no visa to work in the United States.” At this time the Immigrations Supervisor looked at the cover of my United States Passport with a confused look on his face, he flipped open my Passport, looked at the photo, looked at my face and simply asked “Where are you coming from?” I responded with Hong Kong via Beijing.” The Immigrations Supervisor then took the stamper, stamped a page in my passport, flipped the passport shut, handed it to me and said “Welcome Home Sir.”


As I walked away from the Passport Control Booth I could see the Immigrations Supervisor closing this lane. Clearly there was a problem with some communications between the Immigrations Officer and the Immigrations Supervisor.


I have no idea what was up with this problem, but I had an easier time entering Beijing twice in under 48hrs and Hong Kong once between my two Beijing entries. You’d think I’d have a harder time entering Hong Kong to work than the United States where I am a citizen.


Normally returning to the United States, as a US Citizen consists of less than 1 minute at the Passport Control Booth. Sometimes there is secondary screening, but if and when that occurs it is usually dealt with in 2 or 3 minutes of questions. I have had some very long secondary screening situations, but in those situations I know why I was stopped…but generally it fairly quick and painless.


I was angry yesterday, but now looking back on what transpired I find the incident funny. Both ‘sad funny’ and ‘ha ha funny’ (also a bit scary any US Immigrations Officers would think any US Citizen would need a visa to work in their home country) and looking back on the who situation I find myself laughing now.


Below is a photo of my US Passport (notice my “Place of Birth” is New York and my “Nationality” is United States of America…and yes, I have removed some information from my passport to prevent identity theft). Below my passport photo is a photo of the Passport Control Booth at Beijing Capital International Airport, where I managed to clear passport control in with relative ease (although a minor language barrier).


Happy Flying!



a close-up of a passport

a man standing at a check-in counter




  1. Not wishing to state anythng too obvious, but has your passport expired?

    A strange tale, certainly not something that one would expect to happen.

  2. David,

    I wrote the original post when my passport was still very much valid … I have a new passport now, which is valid through 2023.

    Happy Flying!


  3. That does seemed odd. Maybe you had a new border agent? Or maybe he was pissed at you for correcting him, so he went on a power trip. Guess we’ll never know…

    I recently went through my global entry interview, and the agent was super nice. Most of my encounters were fine too, including one where I couldn’t remember where I was transiting from (visit to multiple counties, multiple connecting flights and jetlag) and the agent took it in stride.

  4. Maybe the agent was confused due to a medical problem such as low blood sugar and being diabetic?

  5. I get detained every time I fly back. Every time, even though I’m a citizen. It drives me bonkers that it’d be so weird for me to have a job where I travel internationally constantly. Surely other people do it too?

  6. Nolan,

    I believe medical issues that cloud judgement are grounds for those to be taken off the front line as Passport Agents within Customs and Boarder Protection are armed federal agents. You want someone with clouded judgement with a fire arm in an international arrivals zone?

    Happy Flying!


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