Challenges with Border Guards - RE the Laws

Hi everyone! I’m new to HS and so far loving it. I was coming from Canada to the US for a sit. I was honest at the border crossing and I got given a really hard time at the crossing between Vancouver and Seattle. I got sent for secondary screening and the guard spent a long time with me and said that even though money wasn’t being exchanged, the fact that I was entering the country as a Canadian and recieving a place to stay in exchange for help constitued work and I was in violation of the US work immigration laws. I’m confused as I see people doing this internationally. Has anyone had a hard time from border crossing when sitting in other countries?

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When I went for a sit in Norway from the US the HO warned me not to say I was pet sitting but just coming as a tourist. Apparently a previous sitter ran into the same issue about it being work.

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Hi @jencalla. Welcome to our community forum.

I’m sorry to hear you had difficulty at a border @jencalla and @mam1996t . Here’s a link to some information regarding immigration on the TrustedHousesitters site:

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I had read the story a while back and I believe it was posted on here about an Australian lady who was coming to sit in the U.S. and she had a problem at the border. We live in Vancouver and did a sit in Bellingham about a month ago. We hadn’t crossed the border since pre COVID and we were somewhat concerned. We just said we were doing a house/pet sit and had no problem at all. We weren’t asked by the guard whether we belonged to an organization or not so left it at that. No problem coming back either. I think it would depend on the border guard you get.

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Thank you!

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Yeah I personally don’t see it being work or much different that staying at a friend’s place, but the border was right away uncomfortable with it.

I agree and I think I got a hard one. He interrogated me about my work (I left my regular job and am starting a business) and when he found nothing there he went for the sitting.

I’ve never been asked what I’m doing in the country, aside from touring, even when I spent 2 x 6 months in New Zealand. If I had been asked I wouldn’t have said I was housesitting but staying in hotels and with friends, which would be true as after lots of communication and video calls with homeowners I consider them friends which most of them have since remained.
However, I’m 66 (a young 66) and let my hair grow grey naturally some years ago so think border control assume I’ve got lots of money being older!

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On the contrary, Consider yourself very lucky you weren´t deported. The Internet is full of stories like yours.

Under the Visa Waiver Program, non-immigrant foreign nationals visiting the United States as tourists (visitors for pleasure), engaging in unauthorized employment is not allowed. Pet sitting in exchange for free accommodation is treated as employment, This is why pet sitters entering the US are advised to lie.

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@jencalla the crossing from Vancouver to Seattle has a reputation for being one of the more difficult places to cross into the US, for whatever reason. That may just be a rumor, but I know it was long and slow for us to come back into the US at that crossing years ago, and friends who aren’t pet sitters mentioned being questioned there. When we went through the border guards seemed to be checking cars and passengers a lot more closely than I’ve seen them do at some of the Mexico-US border crossings in the years since.

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Never once been interrogated. My answer is I’m staying with friends which isn’t a lie as we have built up a friendly relationship with the owners by the time we get there.
Why on earth would you tell them your pet sitting? If you read the immigration laws it’s not just paid work you are not allowed to do but volunteering as well. Something like taking an opportunity from a legal citizen I think is the words. Opening a huge can of worms for yourself and others who follow.

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I’m with @ElsieDownie

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Because (a) it is the truth and a lot of people don’t realize they need to be secretive about this and (b) more importantly, the interrogation during secondary inspection is gruelling and invasive, and an immigration officer will ask very probing questions. They can even search your belongings and electronic devices.

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The problem is that it doesn’t really matter what you think, or THS thinks, or anyone else except for the border official who is deciding whether you can enter. There is a very plausible argument that free house-sitting is “work” under US immigration laws. Anyone providing a service and receiving a benefit could be considered to be working. Volunteering is permitted if no benefit (other than feeling good) is received. Unpaid internships are not permitted, because there is a benefit to the intern - experience, contacts, etc.

Most people enter the US for house-sitting with no problems, but they are lucky.

I’m a US immigration lawyer.

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Maybe read up on the immigration laws for each country before you go then.
I don’t lie. The pet owners are friends by the time I cross a border. They just happen to be going away while I’m there.
I have been led into a room and “interrogated”. Not because of pet sitting but because I had the affront of having a Turkish stamp in my passport. I was entering USA on a B1/B2 visa. I do sympathise with the tactics they use. It can be very intimidating. We didn’t get a Cuban stamp in our passport because we knew it would cause huge problems

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Thank you for the info, @Lassie. I don’t know what you’re comfortable sharing, so I’ll try to phrase my question accordingly.

I was just watching another Star Trek episode. You know, parallel universes, brain transferral, etc.

If there were a parallel universe with you in @jencalla’s situation, what would your plan be when crossing the border from Vancouver to Seattle? So, this parallel you is a Canadian citizen only, about to do a U.S. sit, but with your knowledge of U.S. immigration laws.

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Interesting. Yes I’ve experienced this other times as well (non HS times) and heard this too.

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There’s a series of videos I’ve seen on Facebook about border and immigration operations. Volunteers and people who barter labor were rejected, because that’s the law. Given that, if asked, best to say that you’re staying at a friend’s.

Note: On the videos, if the agent thinks further digging is merited, they look at people’s phones for incriminating emails and texts, too. So depending on which borders you’re crossing, that might be worth keeping in mind.

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I was an Immigration Officer in the UK for 20 years, both front line and enforcement. House sitting is at best a grey area under British immigration law and sitters would be easily refusable if the IO was minded to pursue the matter. The reality comes down to the individual seeking entry: Most US/Australian/Canadian tourists get through with being asked how long is their stay & reason for visiting. So, 1 week - 3 months for tourism is a quick landing. Anyone (and some other nationalities) wanting 4-6 months might be quizzed further.
The position in law is that international sitters coming to UK are providing a service that could be paid work, if they weren’t doing it for free, so it’s not allowed. This isn’t negotiable or discussable (Immigration Act 1971 as amended by the 1986 Act).

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Yep, always this!

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