UK Visa Nightmare!

I spent most of today recording the next record. So let's have a Kokolo post, shall we? This is dedicated to Martin Atkins, who asked me to write this. Please buy his book. It's the greatest music business book I've ever read.

Our UK booking agent proudly offers the service of sorting out the work permits (for an extra fee of course.) In practice the process is often a bit strange. On one tour I received the Permits via super blurry fax fifteen minutes after I'd meant to leave for the airport. Good thing I was running late. As I reviewed the documents in the car to JFK, I noticed that there was a permit for our trombone player, who is a British citizen and doesn't need one, but none for me. Big Problem! After assorted hurried consultations and phone calls to the agent, it was decided that I'd just have to enter the UK as a tourist. I'd say I was traveling with the trombone player to "visit" his parents in Yorkshire. All parties were briefed to play along with the story if they received a call from immigration.

The plan called for me to rush off the plane and get to the front of the immigration line while the others dawdled behind, effectively separating our group in the eyes of the authorities. As it turned out, we were landing in Manchester, not crowded Heathrow as we usually do. By the time the passengers divided into EU & Non-EU lines, the band was only three or four people behind me. To complicate things, our singer had taken an earlier flight and was there already, waiting on "the bench" because we had his work permit. Luckily, he was aware of the drama & knew that he should ignore me as if I were a stranger.

I was very tired that morning, but smiled bravely and stepped to the counter. "Good Morning Sir. Your passport is in terrible shape, isn't it? Just visiting, are you? I see you've been here three times in the past year. Is that correct? Please take a seat for a moment, won't you?" I sat down on the bench & waited as the rest of the flight was processed without incident. I was then called forward again. "Sir, you've had a work permit on your previous trips & none now. Do you have a job in the States? And your job lets you take so much time off? You must be very lucky." I truthfully answered "Yes" to everything. "Sir, there's really no reason why I should be required let you into the UK today. I could easily send you home on the next flight."

The gentleman was obviously in a bad mood and wanted to send me home. We began a cycle in which he would interrogate me for a bit, then disappear into the mirrored glass booth to speak with his superiors for ten minutes. It went on and on. Having no other choice, I remained calm. After everything I've been through over the years, I instinctively realized that whatever was going to happen would and I'd just go along with it no matter what. After about 30 or 40 minutes of this exchange, I started to notice assorted band members peeking through the windows at five minute intervals to see if I'd been deported yet. While remaining outwardly calm I was thinking to myself, "Don't look at me, fools. Don't you know they have CCTV everywhere? You'll just fuck everything up!" Eventually, I was allowed to enter England. The Immigration officer was clearly disappointed when he said, "Welcome to the UK, Sir." He obviously realized I was there to play gigs. My guess is his boss also knew how much of an extra burden to the workload it would be if I was refused.

For our latest tour we made a lot of noise about getting the hard copies of the UK Work Permits mailed to us ahead of time. After that fell through, we spent the first week of the tour in the Baltics calling the booking agency every day to make sure everything was OK. We were told that everything was fine & the permits would be mailed to us via the Lithuanian promoters. It didn't happen. On our last day in Lithuania, the agent promised that the Permits were being faxed that minute to the terminal at Heathrow and all we had to do was tell Immigration they were on file. We finally arrived at Heathrow part way through an 18 hour travel day. We approached the counter, waited a few minutes and were told, "I'm sorry. There aren't any permits here for you." What fun! This time it was the entire band (except for the Brit) sitting on the bench together. The only thing we had was the booking agent's contact info and the name and number of the UK Home Office employee who had issued the permits. It was 5:30 on a Friday afternoon. Neither of these people were answering the phone. We waited and then waited some more, as the Immigration folks tried to reach our contacts.

As I sat there, I had no choice but to observe the other problem cases around us. A planeload of Brazilians arrived to watch an important Football match. Quite a few of them were refused for various reasons and they all needed translators. I also saw a 14 or 15 year old kid from Africa who arrived with no passport at all. All he had was a crumpled piece of paper written in pencil. I have no idea what happened to him. I hope he's OK wherever he is. The whole time I was just sitting there thinking, "I bet we could've gotten in as tourists, but we can't change our story now, can we?" A few hours later the booking agent finally answered his cell phone and told the Immigration people that he didn't understand why we were being held up as he thought everything had been taken care of. It was flimsy information at best, but they finally let us in with barely enough time to make it onto our transfer flight. In this case, I think they let us in because we stuck to our story & they finally realized that the booking agent's office had fucked up. Either that or the Brazilians wore them down.

Just before we left the country, someone handed us the work permits. We then found out we were still being charged for them.

Good Times!


J-Sun said...

This is pretty effing great stuff, bro! As one who has tried to start blogs in the past (and failed to maintain them), I know this can be hard to keep up, but I think you should keep up with it as much as possible. And a semi-regular "random snippet of life on the road" post would be really fun to read.

re: British customs - having entered the UK twice (once through Heathrow, once through whichever train station the Channel Tunnel train stops at) I certainly felt that sense of polite disdain that you seem to be describing from the customs officers. I guess you can't blame them, considering the volume of travelers they deal with...

Kavin said...

Ya heard.... yes JT i remember your passport... in beautiful shape i must say! And I remember that day in the airport... suggestion for another airport blog: August 9th, from Birmingham airport to another Birmingham airport to France... lol

jaunty said...

The Birmingham incident is a classic story. I would've come to it eventually in my notes, but now that you remind me I'll make an effort to move it up in the rotation... just as soon as I write about some more music. Keep watching- the music part will get better & better as I follow myself growing up.

peter said...

Hi nice blog. A Business uk visa is issued to travelers who wish to enter UK a business visit, research, consulting with business associates, to attend a professional or business convention, to make commercial contacts or culture exchanges.