Challenges with Border Guards - RE the Laws

I did get stopped at passport control in Berlin. The border guy checked my passport was signed, asked where I was staying (I showed him the HO’s address) and asked what sights I was looking forward to seeing.
That was the most interrogation I’ve faced in my 10 European trips.

I will try to answer your query; please bear in mind that although UK Immigration was my entire working life (at the border on passport control at LGW, LHR and other smaller ports, in London tracing and dealing with illegal entrants & overstayers; at UK Embassies and High Commissions across the world in Visa Sections and latterly running a Risk Assessment Unit to counter all forms of illegal immigration including organised criminal gangs), I have been retired for a while and therefore am not au fait with current rule amendments and new practices such as US citizens passing through eGates. And of course I can only speak about UK Immigration, not other countries.

So, you were refused leave to enter the UK. I can extrapolate from this are that you flew directly into Belfast without clearing immigration somewhere larger like LHR or LGW. That could have been part of the problem as the major ports would have been unlikely to spend very much time on you but Belfast is very small. You don’t say how long ago you were refused but you clearly spoke with an Immigration Officer whose first question was “how long are you staying in the UK” and next “what is the purpose of your trip?”. These questions are always the starting point. Your answers to this were the likely key to your further troubles (unless you were 20 years old, wore surf shorts and flip-flops, had a one-way ticket and $50 in your pocket). I don’t know what you said as a response to these 2 questions and maybe you planned to come to UK for 6 months, which always sets off alarm bells but you probably chimed in with “pet sitting” at an early stage and, as I have covered earlier in this thread that just isn’t compatible with UK Immigration Law, no matter what innocent slants the community put on it.

Your 24 hour Temporary Admission (I’m sure that you weren’t detained) and $3000 were standard procedure. The UK Govt doesn’t pay to remove refusals, it is the responsibility of the inbound carrier to bear the cost and arrangements for removal. UKIS issues Removal Directions to the airline and the airline will do their very best to get you to pay for that (or you can make a “voluntary departure” BEFORE the refusal decision is made, at your own expense but obviously this was not your situation).

Onward now to your current situation. You hold a visa or Entry Clearance, which is absolutely the right thing to have done. It is 100% asking for trouble for a previous refusal to arrive on UK soil without having sorted out the reasons for the refusal and obtaining prior Entry Clearance. However, I am very confused about the nature of your EC and how you obtained it. (BTW I have assumed that you are US nationals, rather than another nationality residing in the US). Do you mean you had an IOM specific visa (which is processed by a British Embassy on behalf of IOM) or a UK Entry Clearance? For what purpose did you obtain the clearance? (By which I mean what category of clearance did you apply for and get? Visit, Work…?) I can’t reconcile the fact that you were issued an EC, post refusal, to do the very thing for which you were refused entry in the first place. I would need more info about it in order to be specific, so if you wish you can send me a PM rather than discuss it on the forum.

However, the bottom line in response to your attempt “to determine if visas are needed for any future travel to the UK” would be an emphatic YES but I have to understand the IOM/pet sit/visa situation first.

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You are visiting as a tourist. Don’t get caught up in the technicalities; the reason you’ve joined THS is to experience other places and localities. Your THS dues pay for your accommodations and were paid prior to entering another country.

That is both the truth and mindset you need while traveling abroad.


I was questioned in secondary at San Francisco entering from New Zealand… I said on my arrival info I was here for tourism (which I am, as well as doing some sits) but they’re extremely good at questioning, and I couldn’t outright lie - I don’t have the nerve haha… Eventually the border guard did let me in (on ESTA waiver) mostly because I proved that I had enough money for the 2.5 months I’m here. But the guard also warned me that house-sitting is considered working and I could be refused entry to the US if I try again. I think it’s partly luck on the border guard you get since it seems to still be a grey area at the moment. If I ever want to do another extended duration of US sitting… work visa?


It’s unlikely in the U.S. that anyone would be granted a work visa for sitting homes or pets. Why: Work visa screening usually requires a sponsor (employer) and a claim that the job can’t be filled by an American. No one would rationally think you can’t find an American who can do such work.

I’m not a lawyer, but I’ve hired/managed people who needed visa sponsorship and worked with a number of people who’ve had work visas. U.S. work visas are relatively hard to get.

Even in the case of some people who legitimately qualify for work visas, they often are stressed about changing jobs or losing them, because you can easily be sent back to your homeland if you can’t get someone to hire and sponsor you within a short window. That’s why you’ll see people on LinkedIn trying to help people with work visas get hired quickly when they’ve lost their jobs.

@Emily2509 There is no visa that would permit house/pet-sitting in the US. I’m an immigration lawyer and have done mostly employment-based immigration in my career. Most employment-based categories require a petitioning employer, and the visa is employer-specific.

In the case of almost all temporary (nonimmigrant) visa categories, it isn’t required to show that there isn’t an available US worker. This is a requirement for many permanent residence (green card) applications, but not the nonimmigrant categories.


@Lassie thanks for the info. I hadn’t really thought much about it but assumed if it counts as work, a work visa would be the way to go. So there’s no real way a non American can house sit in the US without risking being denied entry (apart from hiding the fact of being there to house sit from immigration)?

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There is no such thing as a generic “work visa” for the US. There are many different visas that allow for work, but each has very specific requirements (e.g. TN for Canadians and Mexicans working in specific occupations, L-1 for multinational transferees, H-1B for degreed professionals, etc) and most require an employer to file the paperwork.


Right. To your question: If you’re not comfortable saying that you’re coming as a tourist while you’re headed to sits, you should be prepared for the possibility of being turned away.


About entry to the U.K., anecdotally: About a week ago, I used the automated eGate (let them scan your face and passport, if you’re a citizen from certain countries) at Heathrow without problem. No human contact. I hold a U.S. passport. It’s the second time this year that I’ve entered the U.K.

I would stick to your ‘vacation’ response.


I wouldn’t want such letters in my possession, because they clearly indicate that you’re there to sit in exchange for housing, which various countries don’t allow legally.

When I headed to the U.K. for my sit, I’d already gotten to know my HOs in a friendly way via WhatsApp. I also had their full names, cell phone number and address in my mobile’s address book, in case I was asked to provide them on entry at the airport. Because that’s what friends have when they’re on their way for a visit. And agents will sometimes ask where you’ll be staying.


Dear THS friends,
I am so sad this morning as one of my friend, that I referred to become a THS sitter, has been denied to entry in USA yesterday while going through immigration at the airport.
She was heading for a sit in USA. Not only was she investigated throughly, the THS letter got the officer offended with the word “lawyer”.
They took her picture, fingers prints and she is now put on a list to be “watched”.

My friend is a 67 years old retired nurse. Never committed any crime.

I am so sad.

I am in the process of obtaining my green card for permanent residency in the states and I am already a NEXUS member ( trusted traveller for USA). I do not want to lose this thrust. Therefore, I intend to pause my sittings in the states.

Be careful. What we consider a joyful and helpful way of travelling is not shared by everyone.


Sorry to hear this @Brigitte and thank you for bringing it to the attention of the forum.

What country was you friend travelling from ? What passport do they have ? How long were they planning to be in USA for ?

She is Canadian with a Canadian passport ! was going to the States for three weeks. Was stopped from doing so from Montréal airport.

Basically, this is what it boils down to in various countries:

• Declare you’re going to pet- and house-sit and risk being flagged and refused entry, which is costly. If you happen to be carrying those THS letters, you’ll potentially end up worse off, because they clearly indicate that you’re there to do something that various countries don’t want you doing. If you happen to luck out, you get a border agent who lets you slide. (Note: It’s not in the agent’s interest to do that, because they can get in trouble for not following the law.)

• Say you’re a tourist and/or visiting friends and you’re more likely to avoid problems. Not comfortable doing that? Then be prepared to possibly spend money and time traveling, only to be sent home or worse, as with @Brigitte’s friend.

• Don’t attempt to sit in such countries if you don’t want to take your chances and/or can’t afford wasted airfare and other expenses.

To me, it makes no sense that anyone thinks those THS letters are helpful. It’s a for-profit business declaring that it’s sending people to do what various countries consider work, which locals could do for pay and which would be taxable income.


We have done sits in the States. What did she tell them at the border? We always say we are visiting friends. It is not a lie.

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She petsat before in the states and had no problem saying what she was doing. Last time in Seattle, the officer wished her a good Time while petsitting.
I was once asked how I met these friends I was going to visit. Euh :woozy_face:.

If asked how I met the folks, I’d say online, which is how countless people meet nowadays. And BTW, I also remember what they do for a living, in case I’m asked. Because friends know stuff like that.


It’s not even a question of “work” and “taxable” income. It’s simply a broad law that covers all kinds of exchanges… The real fear is that people will stay past their visas if they can get by, not just that people are coming to the US to “take” jobs. So even volunteer work can’t be done without permission to work. Internships can’t be done on a tourist visa. Au par is only considered a “cultural exchange” when the au par is hired by a designated agency, not when it’s your cousin on her gap year living in your apartment and traveling with your family to take care of the kids on a tourist visa. This is also why the law isn’t going to change because all those rules would have to change, and the US literally cannot do get any kind of immigration bill passed, much less make these kind of changes. Technically, it is NOT even legal for someone on a tourist visa visiting the US to work at their regular non-US based REMOTE job. So if you are coming here as a tourist, you not only can not admit to “housesitting,” you also need to be “on vacation” and be prepared with a ton of paperwork.