Time Out London

As two immigration officers strategically walking in front and behind me to prevent my escape escorted me through the London Stansted airport and onto a plane heading to Germany, I couldn’t help but think that in this moment, the Stansted airport was the last place on earth that I wanted to be.

I must regress. I am an American female who plays semi-professional basketball abroad for a living. After playing in Germany for a whole season, my team had made it into play-offs as the second seeded team. We had Easter weekend off before our first play off game. Going to London for the holiday for two days seemed like the perfect break and the budget airline, Ryanair, provided cheap tickets to get there.

In order to make my 6am flight, I awoke at one in the morning to catch the train to the bus station for the two-hour journey to the airport. Ryanair has a habit of placing the names of famous cities on distant secondary airports that aren’t built for tourist traffic. They are harder to get to because of their distance from main cities. The cheap airline that boasts of being the most prompt in Europe was also an hour late leaving the runway for this particular trip.

It was only when I was going through immigrations in the London Stansted airport that I realized that the basketball club I had been playing for in the past eight months hadn’t gotten me the most important thing one needs when working overseas: a working visa.

I was taken to a small, white-walled interviewing room while an immigration officer took my passport and told me to wait. When the officer returned, she went through all my belongings; clothing, books, money, nothing was left untouched. Then we started the interviewing process that included long extensive questions about the purpose of my mini holiday, what I was doing in Germany and why I had overstayed the allotted 90-day tourist visa. I even had my fingerprints taken. The officer explained to me the proper and confusing rules of the Schengen visa and told me that I had overstayed my welcome by much more than a couple of days. To paraphrase, the officer stated that I had breached the conditions of entry to the Schengen area. The immigration officer could not be satisfied that I would not show the same disregard for the United Kingdom Immigrant laws, making me a dubious visitor to the United Kingdom.

A mere eight hours later found me walking back to the tarmac, escorted by two immigration officers all the way to my seat on the plane. I had been deported from the UK, my only souvenir being a stamp from Stansted Airport in my passport and an “X” through it.

H McNeill

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