Sunset as seen from Isla de la Piedra near Mazatlan, Sinaloa, Mexico.
Where are Kevin and Ruth right now? Near Mazatlan, Sinaloa, Mexico.

Where are they going next? Tepic, Nayarit, Mexico.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

I can't believe I'm still paying for this...

Okay, this is a long story... you better make yourself comfortable!

Some of our long time readers might remember that I (Kevin) need to get a special visa to visit the United States. I've talked about it before on this blog, but it's been a few years so I'll refresh your memory.

When I was 18 years old, I was easily influenced and hanging around with the wrong crowd. This got me into some trouble with the law. I was arrested and charged... the details don't matter, but it was just a stupid thing. I pleaded guilty and paid $60 restitution and never spent any time in prison.

I forgot all about this part of my history until 2007 when the U.S. border authorities ran a criminal records check, and up popped my name! We had crossed the border many times without an issue, however that was about to end.

In 2009, I applied for and received a pardon for this long ago incident. As such, the record no longer exists in Canada.

However, once the U.S. has your criminal history information, they have it forever. To this day, I need to apply for an inadmissibility waiver to enter the United States because the U.S. does not forgive youthful indiscretions. I pay $585 USD ($800 CAD) for this privilege every five years.

Now, fast forward to our Australia trip.

Every visitor to Australia needs a visa to enter the country. It doesn't matter where you are from or for what reason you are visiting. And, there are several different types of visas.

The easiest is the ETA (Electronic Travel Authorization). This is for tourists coming from Canada, the United States, and several other countries. You apply for it online, and the fee is $20 AUD.

I did the research and although there are stipulations about criminal history, based on their own criteria I was eligible to apply for this visa, and I saw no reason why it wouldn't be granted.

In fact, the wording on the application website says...

"You must not have any criminal convictions for which you have been sentenced for a total combined period of 12 months or more, whether or not you served the sentence/s."

So I applied on Saturday (the website is available 24/7) and when it came to the question "Have you ever had a criminal conviction?", I answered yes. Because to answer no would have been a lie.

You get an immediate response back. Ruth's came back positive within 30 seconds. But mine said it had been declined because they needed more information and I was to contact their visa Global Service Center on Monday.

Hmph.

So, that's what I did yesterday.

Long story short, if you click "yes" to the criminal conviction question you will be denied. Just like that. Nowhere does it ask for clarification at all, whether you served a sentence of 12 months or not. And there is no appeal. I was told I had no choice but to apply for a "subsection 600 tourist visa" at a cost of $140 AUD.

It turns out that I should have answered "no" to the criminal conviction question despite the fact that the question and the two possible answers are clearly black and white. The girl on the phone admitted that I am not the first person to have this problem.

So now of course, the problem is that our flight departs on May 16th. I submitted the 600 tourist visa application yesterday. Current processing times for the 600 visa are between 18 to 27 days. On the bright side (if there is one!), the visa is highly likely to be approved.

Reading in online travel forums, there are a lot of people who have come across this same problem. Usually related to U.S. citizens who have a DUI  (driving under the influence) conviction.

Also, many of the people who have come across this problem and have had to do the same thing that I am having to do have had their 600 tourist visa approved in between 2 to 10 days. So, there is hope that this will come back before May 16th.

Once I explained the situation, the girl at the Australian Global Service Center said that I could register a complaint/suggestion online and gave me the info on how to do that. So I did that yesterday as well, and they said they would get back to me within 48 hours. So we'll see.

So, what's the worst case scenario in all of this?

Well, if the visa doesn't come before the flight, Ruth will take the flights anyhow by herself. Hopefully, they will allow me to take the Westjet leg of the trip as far as Los Angeles. I might have to hang out there until the visa is approved. Then, of course I would have to buy my own return trip flight from LA to Melbourne. Yes, I have trip insurance and I haven't checked yet but I doubt it would apply in this case.

Best case scenario is that the visa gets approved before May 16th, and nothing changes other than the fact that I have paid $140 AUD when I didn't need to.

So, all we can do is wait.

I can't believe I am still paying for a minor thing that happened almost 40 years ago. Hey... I accept it and it's part of my history. And I am no longer embarrassed by it which is why I posted it here. If it helps one other person who comes across this same situation and reads this prior to filling out the application, then it's worth it. I wish I had read the forums that talk about it as well, but I thought I had done my research.

And sure... you are supposed to have your visa in hand prior to buying flight tickets... and I accept that responsibility as well. But when I play the game of buying cheap seats it's not always possible.

Anyhow... we will see how all of this plays out. Fingers and toes are crossed!

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Great deal on this Lasko 36″ Tower Fan with Remote Control - Features 3 Whisper Quiet Speeds and Built-in Timer.

And in Canada...

Mothers Day Chocolates


35 comments:

  1. What a fiasco! Hope everything gets worked out in time!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, we hope it all gets sorted out quickly too!

      Delete
  2. It is a problem when a simple lapse in judgement as a youth will affect you throughout your life. Considering all the other countries that you have traveled in this makes no sense. Hoping everything goes as originally planned.
    Be Safe!

    It's about time.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, it is such a shame that something so small can still bite you in the butt so many years later. Had Kevin known way back then that it would actually showed up on a police check he would have requested a pardon many, many years ago and none of this would we an issue now.

      As for traveling to all the other countries that we have visited, none of them have ever requested a visa the way Australia has, so it had never been an issue other than the US which he has already sorted out with them.

      Our fingers are crossed that we have a reply before our flight to Australia is ready to depart.

      Delete
  3. This is really very sad and unfortunate Kevin......I hope and pray things will work out in due time and that the rest of your trip will be worry/trouble free.

    ReplyDelete
  4. It sucks that the US carries records for that long but I imagine it's because of so many terrorist activity. Why did you answer 'yes'? I would have answered 'no' because Canada pardon and expunged your criminal record. Also, I probably would carry a copy of those expunged documents showing I was pardon in case other questions pop up. Question: I renewed my passport way ahead of time. Can you do that for a Visa? I've never traveled outside of North and South Americas. I'm sure everything will work out but just in case I'll have my fingers, toes crossed too.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Maybe you didn't read the post clearly. The question was "Have you ever had a criminal conviction?"

      Answering "no" would have been lying.

      Delete
    2. I don't understand why you say you it turns out you should have answered the question 'No'. Did the girl on the phone tell you that? I'm curious.

      Delete
    3. It is a very grey area, this is why Kevin sent in a complaint/suggestion...to make that question a little more clear on the actual form.

      Delete
  5. Good luck with your outcome, fingers crossed for you.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Good luck! Hopefully, it will get approved quickly:)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, we are hoping so as well. :-)

      Delete
  7. You have done the right thing in answering honestly ... I am surprised this has not applied before when you have left the country . I find the same with travel insurance. Answer all questions honestly and the $$$ add up quickly. Pre existing medical condition and people say dont tell them .. mmm could cause big problems down the track so pays to be honest. Sorry this has happened and hope you get it sorted before your trip departs GOOD LUCK

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Kevin thinks he did the right thing too, but they really need to make that question clearer than the way it is on the form right now as it is a bit of a grey area.

      It hasn't come up before because all the other countries we have visited have never had visas like Australia has. I would expect that China and Russia may have similar type visas. Most other countries just let you enter after asking a few questions at customs as you exit the airport of that particular country.

      We hope things are sorted out quickly and in Kevin's favour as well, thank you for the good luck wishes.

      Delete
  8. If I was in your situation the answer would actually be no you paid a fine
    Paying the fine ok
    If you were placed on probation for 12 months and one day the answer to that question would've been yes
    As a citizen of Canada your record has been expunged which technically allows you to put the answer no
    Where instead of filling out a electronica form if it's possible contact the visa department and post that question as a Canadian citizen For clarification
    If you have any paperwork from the Canadian government Pardoning you submit that as a back up document
    That also goes for the US as well

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. If you were in my situation, you would have learned the rules instead of just guessing. The correct answer to the question was "yes". Anything else would have been lying to the Homeland Security people, and I'm pretty sure that's not a good idea either. Also, the American system and the Australian system communicate with each other. They share information, which means that it is not a good idea to get caught in a lie. They also do not care if you have a pardon.

      Delete
    2. To qualify for an ETA, applicants must hold a valid passport from an ETA eligible country and be outside Australia at the time of application and the time of grant. However, applicants with a criminal conviction are not able to continue with their ETA application and may be eligible to apply for a different online visitor visa instead.

      FYI: Found the above statement on their on-line application site. It also has an on-line help you can call with questions.

      Delete
    3. Rita, Kevin did the research and from everything he had read beforehand he thought he answered the question correctly. In one part of the info they talk about sentences over one year but on the actual form where the question is ask they just ask if you have had a criminal conviction (no time amount is mentioned), as we said it is a very grey area and not clear. In hindsight, yes he should have called and got a further information as to how that question should have been answered, but again had they been more clear than this would never have happened and obviously he is not the only one to have had this problem happen.

      Delete
  9. It will work out, it always does for you guys. Don't sweat it.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Good thoughts your way. It's a crazy world out there.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Well that's just the most confusing thing. Sounds like a money grab to me. Let's get them to pay for 2 visas. And as was told to you, you aren't the only one who's had this problem. Maybe they'll fix it now. Got my fingers crossed that it works out for you. And Kevin you get an A for honesty.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yep, very confusing! I don't think it is a money grab but they really do need to make things clearer on that actual application form, rather then just asking if you have ever had a criminal conviction. Maybe the question should have been, 'Have you ever had a criminal conviction that was more than 12 months'. Anyways, there is nothing we can do about it now, except sit a wait and hope that it comes through before we have to leave.

      Delete
  12. I would have been steaming with frustration over something a simple follow up Q. on the online portal could have clarified! I am condident this will resolved quickly for you, but in case it isn't, nuestra casa es tu casa!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you Tammy! I might take you up on that!

      Delete
  13. That sucks that the web site says one thing and the application another. So when you get a pardon, does that mean that your record is sealed? The USA obviously knew about your record before it was pardoned, but am I wrong in saying that you now have no record elsewhere, so in essence it never happened? You need a legal opinion because that would be a good thing to know for future reference, and could save a lot of grief? You could then feel confident in your answer. In the meantime I have no fear that all will be fine. You have an uncanny way of come out smelling like a rose!! They will probably apologize and give you and Ruth a free trip! Have a great trip!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. So when you get a pardon, does that mean that your record is sealed?

      Yes. Except that the U.S. knows about it and they don't recognize a Canadian pardon. But otherwise, yes, the record is gone.

      Delete
    2. And, the U.S. shares info like this with Australia.

      Delete
  14. I still believe honesty is always the best policy. Husband was busted back in the Navy (about 1975) for marijuana -- ironically, he didn't know he had it in his pocket (a friend had stuffed something in, but he didn't check until the cops showed up), but said he couldn't plead innocent because he had smoked pot plenty of times. He lost his placement in submarines, but was allowed to stay in the Navy on a surface ship...he was told that his record would be expunged after a period of years.
    Long story short, I met him after he got out of the Navy (6 years worth), and after he got his M.S. in Engineering, he applied to work for a military contractor -- which meant getting a clearance. He could have legally said 'no' to that awful question, but chose not to -- explained, of course, but said 'yes.' We had guys in dark suits questioning our neighbors what kind of people we were...the neighbors were wondering what the heck Husband had done to merit this treatment. One man also came to our house and grilled Husband over his activities. Husband was straightforward and explained everything -- including how he'd changed after that. Turns out that the FBI guy knew all about the incident -- so much for it 'disappearing' from Husband's record. He was apparently just testing to see if Husband would try to hide it. So that's why, in spite of the "very grey area," Kevin, you were still wise to mention it. So now they can't say you were trying to hide something.
    And yes, I know. It's a BIG hassle, and shouldn't be that way. (P.S. Husband's top secret clearance went through just fine. Hopefully yours will, too.)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yep, very frustrating! And I agree, that I handled it the right way given the information they presented to me at the time. Too bad their presentation wasn't very clear!

      Delete
  15. Are the Australian visas something new(newer). We travelled to Australia, Fiji, and New Zealand about 10 years ago and didnt require any visas. I am just curious as we are planning a return trip in a few years.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Nope it's not new. Apparently Australia has required visitors visas for many years and they actually launched the ETA (Electronic Travel Authority) system back in 1996, so you must have done it 10 years ago and just didn't realize or remember doing it. You can read more about it here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Visa_policy_of_Australia

      Delete

We love hearing from you! Please take the time to leave a comment...