I am a very recently naturalized America citizen. I want to visit the the UK but leaning towards flying in to France, and attempt entry into the UK via Calais by road on my US passport, so that if I am refused entry I can just go back to Paris and continue my vacation in France instead of flying direct into the UK from USA and risk being sent back to the USA directly.

I am inclined not to apply for a visitor's visa ahead of time. My reason being UK visitor's visa applications are evaluated purely based on the documentation you mail in without having the opportunity to talk/explain to the officer, while my current plan of going physically to the UK would mean at the very least I will have the opportunity to petition for admission face to face.

Some background for my dilemma:

In November 2015, while a permanent resident in the USA, I applied for a simple 6-month visa to visit the UK for one week and indicated I had $3,500 of spending money. I was refused under V4.2E.

His explanation for my refusal is I presented a Bank of America account with a balance of over $20k, which shows huge deposits (of $25k+ each) and withdrawals not in line with my biweekly pay deposits of about $5k. Now of course because UK visas are purely by mail and without appeal, I was unable to explain to him those funds come from my own brokerage account. I chose not to submit a new application with additional financial documents to clarify the provenance of funds because of time, my vacation to Europe was about to start in a couple of weeks plus I have zero intention of providing her majesty with more in unnecessary visa fees.

I have been legally a resident in the USA since 1998. I am married, have a well paying job as an engineer here in the USA, have traveled several times to the UK and never stayed more than ten days. Previously I had two different five-year multiple entry UK visas (the last of which expired in 2014), visited several other countries in Europe, own my own home and I'm financially secure. I have never overstayed a visa in any country and travel extensively.

So basically I want to travel with all my financial documents plus a copy of the previous refusal as if I were applying for a visa, and present my case if questioned at entry. I assume as an American I am allowed to travel visa free to the UK, despite my previous visa refusal.

Is this better than applying for entry clearance ahead of time, bearing in mind obtaining entry clearance ahead of time does not mean I will automatically be allowed entry into the U.K.

UPDATE 1 on March 15 2017

See my answer below to find out how it unfolded at Heathrow.

UPDATE 2 on July 8 2017

Follow-up visit after the first visit in March.

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    Entry clearance ahead of time doesn't guarantee admission, true, but if you get the entry clearance, the immigration officer will generally assume that the entry clearance officer has looked at you more closely than is possible in a border inspection. – phoog Jan 30 '17 at 20:13
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    It will be much easier and less stressful if you apply for the entry clearance beforehand, this time including all the appropriate documentation. Having it approved will also effectively deal with the previous refusal and virtually eliminate any chance of problems at the border. – Michael Hampton Jan 30 '17 at 20:59
up vote 44 down vote accepted

To answer my question myself after my experience from two subsequent visits:

Is this better than applying for entry clearance ahead of time, bearing in mind obtaining entry clearance ahead of time does not mean I will automatically be allowed entry into the U.K.

March 15 2017, Visit

For any visa free national with a previous dust-up with UK Immigration, I will not recommend you try the visa free route unless you have a stomach for the unknown. I just got released from detention at Heathrow after being held for SIX hours. The whole ordeal was a nightmare which was one missed phone call away from ending disastrously.

Ultimately I chose to fly in directly to the UK from the USA, abandoning the entry via Calais in France. I landed at 7:30 AM and after a couple of questions from the clearing officer (including have you ever had any problems with immigration anywhere which I answered honestly with a yes, including even my first refusal 19 years ago), I was promptly perp walked to a cordoned off area in the immigration control hall in full view of arriving passengers.

After sitting for about twenty minutes, the I/O came over and asked me a couple more questions and took the number of my friend I am visiting. Unfortunately my friend was at work and did not pick up the call after two tries (I believe this was a major cause of my ordeal). I was marched over to the fingerprinting room and my mugshot and fingerprints taken, then returned to the cordoned off area. I sat there about another hour before another I/O came for me and escorted me to the detention room, confiscated all my electronic equipment and belongings etc and locked me up.

I stewed off there for another two hours before two different I/O's came for me, asked me to get my bags and went through the bags in detail and inventoried everything. Back again to the detention room for another hour, then one of the I/O's came for me to an interview room.

I was interviewed for about thirty minutes with all kinds of probing questions. Fortunately I had a printout of all documents required for a visa interview and remembered the advice to be exceedingly polite. After the interview the I/O said he was going to his Chief Immigration Officer to make a final decision. I asked him how is it looking and he said he couldn't give me an answer, then relented a bit and said don't worry too much, I will be back with the decision. I was returned to the detention center and I started thinking about how to request temporary admission.

After another thirty minutes he came back and said, I have good news for you. We finally reached your host/friend and your answers all tallied with his except a couple minor discrepancies. We have thus decided to land you. I thanked him for his professionalism throughout the ordeal (the second I/O had been yelling at an Iraqi girl who was also in detention for not having a transit visa while enroute to Canada, making her burst into tears, she had been held from the previous day and was going to be there another day or more while the storm in the East USA cleared) and was on my way.

enter image description here

Always get an entry clearance if you have had any previous brushup with UK immigration, in my case a previous refusal. Attempting a visa free entry is asking for unnecessary trouble and rolling dice stacked against you. I should have heeded Gayot Fow's advise.

DOCUMENTS I CARRIED ALONG

I had the original visa refusal letter from 2015, three months of current bank statements from each of my three checking accounts plus brokerage account , three months of mortgage statements, signed invitation letter, marriage certificate, return ticket, CASH plus credit cards (they did say they prefer debit card to credit card because it's access to your own money and not a loan unlike a credit card), previous international hotel stays spanning the time from my previous refusal to now.

DETENTION CENTRE

The detention centre was not pleasant although it was clean and big enough. There was a television and books We were not segregated by sex, so we had both males and females in there.One man was sleeping and snoring like a locomotive and disturbing everyone and he clearly had not taken a bath in a few days. I confess I could be viewed as another crazy since I couldn't sit still and was milling around trying to do tai chi, shadow boxing, and talking to myself etc to keep my mind off my predicament. The female guard did comment later that I talk to myself a lot.

Another woman was on the only allowed public phone for about three straight hours preventing other detainees(including myself) from receiving vital incoming phone calls. There were two mattresses on the floor I guess for long term detainees. You get a drink and a bun and you're told you could be held there anywhere from 15 minutes to 24 hours without a specific time. Basically, you don't want to be there

UPDATE 2 after July 8 2017 Visit

Followup visit after first visit in March. Today at Belfast airport I was detained for about twenty minutes while the border officer left her terminal at the primary control point (PCP) and went to review my profile/files at the secure control point.

My trip today was once again as a non-visa national without obtaining advance entry clearance. I was asked the standard what are you visiting for, how long are you staying, and then have you ever had any problem with UK immigration after which she took my passport and issued me with the form IS 81, asked me to take a seat, and went off into their offices.

After the officer returned, she apologized for holding me up and explained it was because of my entry clearance refusal back in 2015. Without request, she went on to say she would request the stop indicator be removed. There was no interview except the initial questions and they also did not ask for any documents.

enter image description here

My experience makes me believe subsequent visits will be like my second visits, relatively short detentions while they check their system. Of course if the flag gets removed then it will be easy breezy.

UPDATE 3 after July 8 2018 Visit

Experience was like second visit in Belfast. Detained for about fifteen minutes. Officer went to check record at secondary control point, came back and let me go after an apology and said he had also recommended Home Office remove the flag on my name however I am not counting my chicks on that.

  • 3
    @SheikPaul You were unlucky (admittedly it could have gone worse). Based on what I've heard from others in your situation, a single visa refusal is not normally a cause for the ordeal you went through, especially if you can produce all the documentation that's required for a visa. More scrutiny, yes, but you were likely very unfortunate. In any case, glad it turned out well :) – Coke Mar 15 '17 at 23:56
  • @Crazydre Does it mean them allowing me in yesterday doesn't count as an equivalent of obtaining entry clearance? I thought the admission yesterday essentially wiped my slate clean? – Musonius Rufus Mar 16 '17 at 9:05
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    @SheikPaul you still don't get it :( as written several times now entry clearance is the ONLY way to clear the air and get a fresh start. I do like your content about the mixed gender detention centre. More stuff like that, or amplified into a whole new question about what detention is like might be well received, you never know :) – Gayot Fow Mar 16 '17 at 11:21
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    @SheikPaul A visa-free admission does not wipe the slate clean, only an entry clearance does, but on the other hand, from what I understand (please correct me Gayot if I'm wrong) you need only one entry clearance. Then, when that one expires, you can enter visa-free again without being flagged specifically for your original visa refusal, and so do not need visas for the rest of your life – Coke Mar 16 '17 at 15:31
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    I'm sorry to say that I'm glad you went through this and reported it here! It's so much more valuable than theory or having gone for the entry clearance and being approved/denied. +1 from me! – Berwyn Apr 20 '17 at 14:13

You are a recently naturalised American (congratulations) and your immigration history includes a refusal from when you were (presumably) a visa-national. You did not include a scan of your refusal notice and it's not relevant at this point.

Your description of the refusal tells us that they got you on 'funds parking', this is a phrase coined exclusively here at Travel Stack Exchange to describe a situation where an applicant's source of funds has a dubious provenance. They refuse on those grounds all the time. You think that you were not given an opportunity to explain, but you were: it's called a fresh application; if you had included documentation showing the lawful provenance of your money, you would have had great chances for success.

You want to enter the UK through the juxtaposed controls in France. That's fine. There's nothing preventing it. You can also take the Eurostar if you want, or you can fly from France, or whatever. These strategies are fine, but they do not improve over simply flying from the US. If one inward route were easier than the others the Chief Inspector would spot it and it would be tightened up. If anything transiting the juxtaposed controls is more rigorous, we have two cases in our archives here where Americans failed that route.

Whichever way you pick, it's about the same, all in all.

Is this better than applying for entry clearance ahead of time, bearing in mind obtaining entry clearance ahead of time does not mean I will automatically be allowed entry into the U.K.

Entry clearances get revoked if the person used fraud or deception or if there's an Interpol alert for the person. They are never revoked on a whim or in a way that second guesses the judgement of a British Consulate General abroad. It simply does not happen. Instead, they are the most sure-fire, stress-free way of entering the UK; there are millions of entry clearance end-users every year.

User Michael Hampton (to whom thanks and a tip of the hat) has given you the recipe for never having to explain your refusal going forward...

It will be much easier and less stressful if you apply for the entry clearance beforehand, this time including all the appropriate documentation. Having it approved will also effectively deal with the previous refusal and virtually eliminate any chance of problems at the border.

Good advice. And the same cannot be said for having obtained leave-to-enter at a border crossing.


Notes:

I like the comment from "MadHatter" below...

"...but because if it all goes pear-shaped he'll still be in France and able to enjoy a holiday, rather than being detained at the airport and thence flown back to the US..."

If the possibility of a removal seems nascent, and if arriving from America, a solicitor's advice would likely be to carry confirmed onward travel arrangements to France (or anywhere else outside the Common Travel Area) and if it all goes pear-shaped to seek admission in another category, viz. a temporary admission or perhaps more appropriately, one of the transit categories. The trick is to have your stuff ready and know what to apply for if leave-to-enter fails. Presence of mind can be very helpful in these situations.

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    In the OP's defence, if I understand him correctly he wishes to enter from France on leave-to-enter-at-border-crossing not because the entry will be any easier than any other LTEABC route, but because if it all goes pear-shaped he'll still be in France and able to enjoy a holiday, rather than being detained at the airport and thence flown back to the US. For clarity I note that, even if he wishes to enter from France, he'll be better off applying for entry clearance beforehand. – MadHatter Jan 31 '17 at 12:52

First of all:

I assume as an American I am allowed to travel visa free to the UK, despite my previous visa refusal

This is correct.

I am married, have a well paying job as an engineer here in the USA, have traveled several times to the UK and never stayed more than ten days [...] So basically I want to travel with all my financial documents plus copy of previous refusal as if I were applying for a visa, and present my case if questioned at entry.

The way I see it, you should be fine, though possibly with some delays.

The GOV.UK website does say that you should bring the same documents to the border that you would send to the visa application centre. Although this is an exaggeration in most cases, you will want to take their word for it.

That said, if you collect all available proof of your ties to the US in an A4 soft binder (not just financial ties, but also employment contract, marriage certificate and anything else) and bring them to the border to show if requested (don't present the pile of documents upfront), you should be let in.

That said, an entry clearance is and always will be the safer option, because, as others have pointed out, not only is it a pre-approval for entry (unlike US visas, which only let you apply for admission), it will also nullify the circumstances that led to your previous visa refusal.

So, in summary: yes, you should be fine to travel without a visa if bringing all above mentioned documentation, but to play it really safe, you may want to get a visa.

  • Thanks for the input and I agree about the entry clearance being the preferred path. However I also believe that considering I will be taking every conceivable document with me on the trip through France, a refusal at the entry point will just mean the U.K. doesn't want me in and I couldn't present a better case even if I applied for Entry Clearance. I'm not inclined to give the Brits another $100 of my money when it's not absolutely necessary. Over the course of my life I have spent more than enough on visas. – Musonius Rufus Feb 1 '17 at 21:03
  • @PaultheSheik Like I also point out, you should be fine to enter without a visa. The fact that you now have US citizenship, giving you an irrevocable right to return to an affluent country, certainly won't be a disadvantage – Coke Feb 1 '17 at 21:24

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