Denied entry into the UK: what happened and what now?
October comes and my boyfriend's close friends decide to move to the UK. They have place to stay, job interview coming up soon and a very good way of convincing people we should go to meet them later this year. I lived in Bulgaria for six months, hoping at some point a marriage proposal would pop up so I wouldn't have to worry about leaving the country on 30 of October, but my fairytale dreams did not come true and eventually I had to find somewhere else to go. I love travelling and going back to my home country wasn't really an option. I don't feel like I'm ready to spend 600 euro for a one way ticket when this money will allow me to visit a whole new country for a month.
For the time I was in Bulgaria, I always thought about visiting Romania, but I kept postponing it. When my time came to leave my boyfriend's country, Bucharest suddenly became a good place to spend a month. I had free accommodation doing volunteer work and one month later we would visit those friends who live in England. The idea was to spend the holidays with them and a few weeks after that until I could be back in Bulgaria. The officers at the airport, apparently, did not believe my story.
We arrived at London STN on a Tuesday, around 6:30 in the afternoon. I don't know exactly how to explain, but before arriving I already had a feeling the immigration would be tough. The fact that, as I walked towards the passport control, I said "good evening" and the officer said "yeah, passport" didn't make things any easier. He saw that on my landing card I wrote I would like to stay 2 months and he immediately let me know he considered that a long stay. He started with the normal questions: why do you want to stay for this amount of time, where will you stay, who are you travelling with and who will you meet, things that like that. Then he asked for my ticket back. And I didn't have one. I said no and explained and his come back was "you need to say yes or no, don't give explanations I didn't ask for". I know not having a ticket back is a huge mistake when passing through any passport control, but my plans at this moment revolve around going back to Bulgaria next year and applying for temporary residency. I've been with my boyfriend for a decent amount of time and to the point of living together, so of course we have plans for the future that don't include me going back to my country.
The officer asked what kind of documents I had in the folder I was holding and I showed the contract from when I worked on cruise ships, my extension of 90 days in Bulgaria, health insurance, some bank extracts from very long ago and random documents that I carry with me since I disembarked from the ship, like crowd management and security certificates, medical exams etc. He asked if he could take a look and of course that was not a question, I didn't have an option. He took the folder and asked me to sit. He came back a few minutes later asking for my boyfriend, who was on the other side, and we went to get him. They talked and the officer came to me one more time saying our stories matched. I felt relieved, and then he says "but I still need to have more people analysing your case". It had become a case already.
Two ladies come to pick me up and put me in a room smaller than the one I had on board and I waited for one hour. No phone, not even my wallet I was allowed to keep, it was all outside on the corridor. One of them comes back and asks new questions. They leave me again for another hour. They make copies of all the documents I had in the folder. Even letters from friends that, for some dumb reason, I kept there. A new lady introduces herself and says she'll take me to another room, where there's water, coffee, blankets and pillows. There I knew the night would be long. And until that point my boyfriend had no idea of what was going on.
The lady said I had the right to make one phone call for 5 minutes. I guess that's how it feels when you get arrested, except that never in my life I've done something illegal. Of course I tried to call my boyfriend and his phone was dead. I asked if an officer could walk me outside just to let him know what was happening, but no. Later one guy comes to tell me the first officer I talked to had already talked to my boyfriend and given him a phone number in case he wanted to reach me. It didn't take long for me to hear from him and that was when I broke down crying on the phone, not knowing what to answer when he asked me what was happening. This happened 3 to 4 hours after we arrived and we didn't have any chance of catching a bus to the city we were heading to anymore.
I asked him to call me again one hour later and in the meantime I had a third interview. He called me saying a lady had talked to him and told him to go because I would not get in. To me, nobody had said a thing, so once more my boyfriend kept waiting outside and promised to call again. Eventually, they did tell me I was denied entry into the UK. For all the wrong reasons, all written, but I couldn't contest. Nobody asked if I agreed with their reasons and no signature was needed. It was just a letter and removal directions. The next day, I would go back to Bucharest, the place from where I flew, for staying over 3 months in Europe, which goes against the Schengen Treaty. That's part of what the letter said. I tried my best to understand how, all of a sudden, Bulgaria and Romania were part of the Schengen Zone and how they just ignored the papers I had from the local authorities saying I could legally stay in Bulgaria for over 3 months. The rest of the letter was all about my certificates from on board and how I would seek employment in the UK. Even though I have a job that allows me to work from anywhere in the world as graphic designer and I know immigrants are going to these places in Europe to work in restaurants or clean toilets. While I praise those professionals, I have been doing my own thing for years now and it's allowed me to travel and spend my own money in other people's country without even thinking about working there.
My boyfriend called several times that night. I cried several times. I had genuine plans of visiting friends and getting to see a new country. I thought the stamps I had from previous countries would help me, given I've never overstayed anywhere, but they did the opposite. Truth is, you can't predict whether they will let you in or not. It's great to have evidence that you'll leave their country, but sometimes it's not enough. Maybe if I had a ticket back I wouldn't put myself in this situation. But maybe it wouldn't matter at all. The lady was very specific when she said she decided not to trust my answers about my certificates, that I had them because I was on board and I disembarked in Europe and kept them. She said "this is what you are telling me, but I cannot be sure". If you follow this track of thought, me having a ticket implies I thought about going back, but if I wanted to stay, the amount spend on a ticket wouldn't stop me.
While I was there, I saw so many south Americans going through the passport control answering maximum how long they would be staying. Not more than 2 questions, I swear. I was the chosen one for the night. The prize was a ticket back to Bucharest 6 in the morning, a stamp with a cross on my passport and my boyfriend spending 200 pounds to come back with me so we can figure out something else. I didn't get my passport until I got to Bucharest, at their own passport control, and to there an officer walked side by side with me. Here, they only asked me what happened and why they sent me back. I told a very short version and they asked if I wanted to stay in Romania. They could reject me too, but I said yes, for a couple of weeks. I had to come up with new plans for my holidays and I certainly needed to get some rest. They stamped my passport back in and said have a nice day.
I recently began working on a personal project where I need to find a positive side to everything that goes wrong. So for that I just thought: well, at least I'm not spending in pounds.