I have no idea where I am as I write this. Or maybe it would be more accurate to say I have no idea where I am supposed to be.
I’m at home in Germany, but I don’t think there is any record of my being here. I’m a little confused. Bear with me and you can join my confusion.
Last week I had business meetings in the UK, which mean flying from Basel (the closest airport, even if it is in Switzerland) to Luton, the fourth, or is it fifth, of London’s airports. A direct flight, a simple journey.
Before boarding in Basel I went through passport control. The officer stamped my passport, indicating I was leaving Switzerland (a country I had entered just by walking down the hall at the airport). Passport stamps in Basel can be from Switzerland, France or Germany – I think it depends on who is staffing the booth that day.
Arriving the in UK, I was prepared for a brief conversation at passport control with someone from British Immigration and another passport stamp. The last time I was in England, in February 2017, they asked me some questions and then let me in with a stamp allowing me to stay up to six months, not just the three days of that business trip.
This time though there were no questions asked. Nor anyone to ask them. I scanned my passport at a self-service machine, left the airport and walked to my first meeting. Seems simple enough, except….
When I flew out of Luton three days later there was no passport scan and no immigration officials. I think that means as far as British immigration is concerned, I’m still in their country.
I’m definitely not officially back in Germany. In Basel I had to once again go through passport control, but that was a formality. Once the immigration officer saw the German visa in my passport, he waved me through. No stamps and I presume no record.
Which leaves me wondering where I am legally. If I am still in the UK, will they eventually come looking for me since I have not officially left? How will they know where to look?
The reason I wonder is because I have had this experience before.
A decade ago my wife and I took an extended European vacation. When we flew into Rome, no-one stamped my passport. I was jet-lagged and didn’t think anything of it. I didn’t know the rules. I still don’t know the rules.
We flew back to Canada via Brussels. At passport control the officer went through my passport twice before asking me questions. How long had I been in Europe? Why was my passport not stamped?
He was rather belligerent about it, and I must admit I pushed back a little. I told him I had no idea why my passport wasn’t stamped. I’d come through Rome, and if Italian officials had failed to do their duty, then he should take it up with them. It wasn’t my place to tell them how to do their jobs.
I don’t think he liked my answer, but he let me fly home. Probably not worth his while to detain me. I might be the sort of person who doesn’t respond well to mindless bureaucracy, and would therefore make his life miserable.
Who knows what will happen this time around, if anything. Somehow I doubt the immigration police will be looking for me, either in the UK or here. And where would they look?
Don’t you just love the paperwork of travel?