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I'm a writer and theater/film director who has been traveling nearly all my life without incident. In February, I decided to pull up stakes in NYC and move to London. I am a freelancer and I'm working with three different organizations in NYC so I wasn't working illegally in the UK. I was, however, seeing if there might be some opportunities in London, ie. meeting with Artistic Directors of various theatre companies to see if they might be interested in producing my work.

In April, I was invited to a conference in San Diego and then a film festival in Switzerland. I didn't think it would be a problem if I went and then bummed around in France for a few days since I hadn't broken any laws and had left the UK well under my six month leave to stay. Well, when I tried to return to London, I was denied entry at Luton. The border control officer said I didn't have enough funds for a two month stay and put a black cross over a stamp in my passport. They put me in a detention room until the next flight back to Lyon, which was the following morning. I don't know anyone in Lyon so I ended up going to a friend's place in Paris.

After a few days of not knowing what to do, a friend suggested that perhaps I should try going back to London on the Eurostar since border control is in Paris. I wondered if I ought to go to the British Embassy but was deterred by something on their website that says that a visitors visa could take up to three weeks (I can't sit around here in Paris for three weeks) and anyway, the decision ultimately is with the border control, so I decided to take a chance on the Eurostar. I bought myself a return ticket in two weeks to Paris just so I had something to show.

Well, the UK border control denied me entry after giving me a third degree. They accused me of lying and seeking work in the UK. They also insisted that the amount of money I had was not enough to live on for two weeks. So I'm back at my friend's place in Paris, wondering what to do.

Is it possible for me to ever get back to the UK? I had to cancel one meeting and I'm wondering if I have to cancel going to the Sheffield DocFest. (Two of my projects were accepted to programs there.)

Should I apply for a visa from the British Embassy? Will this really take three weeks? When I started to say something about obtaining a visa, the border control officer cut me off and said, "Why are you going to the Embassy? This has nothing to do with the Embassy. We make the decisions."

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    What is your citizenship? – user13044 May 6 '15 at 8:35
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    Why do you think you were not illegal? Regarding digital nomads... travel.stackexchange.com/questions/45092/… – Gayot Fow May 6 '15 at 10:49
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    If you were working in the UK and residing there "I decided to ... move to London" then it sounds like you probably have been working illegally and intend to continue to do so. I think perhaps you should look at how to legally be a UK resident, rather than staying on a visitors exemption (which border control clearly aren't having any of) – CMaster May 6 '15 at 11:58
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    Is the cause of your problem essentially that you didn't realise that working from the UK = working in the UK? – JamesRyan May 6 '15 at 15:08
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    I think it's quite clear that meeting Artistic DIrectors is permitted under the exceptions in Visitors' Rules Appendix 3. Specificially allowed are: (c) negotiate and sign deals and contracts; (d) attend trade fairs, for promotional work only, provided the visitor is not directly selling; – Andrew Lazarus May 6 '15 at 19:04
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A removal from port is one of the more distressing experiences a traveller can have, and the UK Border Force has been taking a harder line towards abuse. Based upon what you wrote, you were building up a private life in the UK and working without the proper documentation (even though your work was performed for US companies and probably denominated in US dollars). Your narrative also states that you were detained rather than given temporary admission; this would indicate that in addition to failing the landing interview they concluded that you were likely to abscond. That usually means they have palpable evidence that you will continue to abuse the system and try to go underground.

What to do now? They gave you some forms as part of the removal process. Hold on to them because you'll need the reference numbers in the future, essentially for at least 12 years or until you acquire citizenship in an EEA member state. The forms will also say if there are any bans in effect or if you have been classed as undesirable. This is unlikely because your narrative is a fairly common one, but you should check nonetheless. They also took your biometrics and they will keep those on the system for 12 years. They will send the information to the EEA member states, the Commonwealth members, and to the DHS (regardless of your nationality). The other step to take immediately is to get in touch with HMRC and find out if you need to file a return with them.

Is it possible for me to ever get back to the UK? Yes, you can try any time you want at any port you want (except through the Common Travel Area as you no longer have that option). The 'golden advice' in these situations, however, is that you get an entry clearance before attempting another entry. It's not required, but is the only way to assure that you do not endure the discomfort of another removal from port. Note: trying to use the Common Travel Area to access the UK is a dreadful mistake, don't do it.

Should I apply for a visa from the British Embassy? Yes. As mentioned, it is not required, but a highly recommended option. You will need to enrol your biometrics again and submit your passport along with all the necessary evidence to qualify as a visitor.

Will this really take three weeks? It's possible. On the other hand if your evidence is weak and you plainly do not qualify, it could take as short as a day to get a refusal back from them. Constitutionally, they can take up to 90 days to reach a decision, but based upon everything you wrote, your case is relatively straight-forward. It's straight-forward as long as your paperwork with HMRC is in order and your bank statements do not show deposits from working during the time you were in the UK; if they do, then it becomes complex very quickly. It goes without saying that you should do everything in your power to assure your application is successful.

Should you cancel the Doc/Fest? There's no need to decide that today, but there's definitely a nascent possibility that 30 days (when the festival starts) will not be long enough to get everything sorted out. If you didn't have the funds at port, how will you get them in Paris?

For the last part of your narrative, when the Immigration Officer told you "We make the decisions", he was right; but I think it was a communication problem and he thought you wanted to make an in-country application. With or without an entry clearance, you will have to clear a landing interview every time you arrive, and the IO has the final word. Sidenote: trying to get consular assistance from the US Embassy (or any other diplomatic mission in the UK) in a removal situation is beyond worthless since they can't do anything and might charge you for it later anyway.

Finally, lots of people find it useful to instruct a member of the Law Society to represent their next application. But you will need to clear their money laundering hurdles (which will be difficult if you have been working illegally) and pay their fee up-front (I'm guessing £800+ based upon what you wrote, but that's strictly a guess!)

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    Really a terrific answer! – samthebrand May 7 '15 at 21:27
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    But is it really that straight forward? From my reading he was living permanently in the UK, and working. The problem here seems to be that the OP seemed to think because it was easy to vacation in any country he wanted that he could just move to any of them he wished, set up permanent residence, and continue working. I do not think there is any chance of the UK border or embassy granting him entry, anytime soon. At least until he provided evidence that he plans to stop his technically illegal behavior, and even then they have a negative record of him now. – Jonathon May 7 '15 at 22:55
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    @JonathonWisnoski, I'm grateful for your comment. Yes, I think it's pretty straight-forward. But take to mind that straight-forward is a sword that cuts in two directions, and only one of those directions is favourable to the applicant. I'm thinking they will be able to reach a decision WITHOUT referring it to the Complex Casework Unit. For example, no children involved, no spouse, no grounds for asylum, no medical issues, no inclusionary issues.But there are still a few things that MIGHT make it complex which I listed. But overall, it's very straight-forward. Which is not always good news :) – Gayot Fow May 7 '15 at 23:25
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The bit about "meeting with Artistic Directors of various theatre companies to see if they might be interested in producing my work" is in the work spectrum.

If you were trying to enter the UK in the visa you obtained at the airport and valid for 6 months, and claimed that you were a tourist, then this could be the reason. Both assertions are not compatible. Add to it the fact that you didn't have enough money (from their point of view) for the two months stay.

The Eurostar route won't work for you. Obviously, you won't be send back by plane if you try to enter by train, but that's the only difference.

Since you were denied entry, you'll need to apply for a visa, even if citizens of your country are normally allowed visa-free entry.

  • And since border clearance is in France, you won't be sent back by train, either; you'll be sent back on foot. – phoog May 6 '15 at 14:12
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    I down voted this answer because I don't think it adds anything of value and many things are inaccurate or at least imprecise. – Relaxed May 6 '15 at 14:30
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    As Andrew Lazarus indicated in his comment to the question, the bit about meeting with artistic directors is almost certainly permitted, since the list of permitted activities says that "a visitor may (a) attend meetings, ... (c) negotiate and sign deals and contracts; ...". – phoog May 6 '15 at 19:23
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    @QuoraFeans When a US citizen enters the UK without a visa, it is not necessary to be entering as a tourist. Visa-free travel is also available to US citizens traveling on business. – phoog May 11 '15 at 18:36
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    @phoog: yes, there is no reason to consider what she did (claiming to be a tourist, then going job or project hunting) as hard facts. It's only a possibility. The only bit that is solid is that the border control thought she was short on money, which seems as a common reason to be denied entry in the UK (or other countries). – Quora Feans May 13 '15 at 17:38

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