UK immigration dual citizenship conundrum
August 30, 2014 1:32 AM   Subscribe

Flestrin minimus, a US citizen by birth and also a British citizen by descent by way of being the legitimate son of a British father, is planning to travel to London to visit family and study. He has a valid US pasport and has applied for a British passport, BUT said British passport has not yet arrived (it turns out that allowing 40% longer than the 10 week estimate was not enough extra padding). So, he has a US pasport, a one-way plane ticket and time constraints. How best to proceed?

Should he:
  1. Tell the airline that he's a British citizen, so they let him on the plane without a return booking, and bring birth certificates etc. to prove it to UK immigration if challenged.
  2. Buy an unrestricted UK->US ticket for the putative "return leg" of a round trip and change it/get a refund later, if asked just saying that he is visiting family (which is true).
  3. Do something else*?
No doubt the British passport will arrive shortly after he departs and we can send it on to him. If he has entered the UK on a US passport, will he need to exit the UK on his US passport then reenter on his British passport (say, a day trip to Calais) some time in the next six months to keep everything square?

Is there anything else to consider? Oh, just to cover all bases, he's been to the UK a bunch of times before as a tourist on his US passport, but because of his pending application HM Passport Office (and hence possibly UK immigration) now has details of his dual citizenship linked to his US passport number.

*I suppose he could try to apply for a student visa, but if he is even eligible it muddies pools: I'm not sure there's still time, it's an extra, unnecessary expense, and it's likely to cause confusion with the university etc. when he magically changes into a British citizen a week or five later.
posted by Quinbus Flestrin to Travel & Transportation (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You seem to have left an important piece of information out. Why does he only have a 1-way ticket? Is he moving to the UK? Is he attending uni (this is implied later in your question)?

The safe middle ground is probably to have him enter on his US passport, with a departing UK ticket in hand for some time like 8 weeks after arrival. This does not need to be a return ticket to the US. A £50 Ryanair ticket to Dublin or Paris will do nicely.

He should NOT tell immigration control he is attending university with a US passport and no student visa. He is visiting family.

For reasons involving the absence of border control with the Republic, he will not need an exit stamp but when he next travels into the UK, should do so with his new UK passport.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:48 AM on August 30, 2014

Response by poster: Yes, he'll be there for a while at university -- maybe "visit family and study" wasn't clear enough, sorry.

As for the ticket to Dublin, are you suggesting he uses it so he seems to have left the country, or that he just buys the ticket for initial entry purposes and then forgets about it?
posted by Quinbus Flestrin at 2:12 AM on August 30, 2014

that he just buys the ticket for initial entry purposes and then forgets about it?

That. Immigration really wants to see that you have plans to leave and they get tetchy if you don't have an outbound ticket. He can throw out the one-way ticket to Dublin or Paris or Prague or wherever after he arrives, but he should have one.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:18 AM on August 30, 2014

I think DarlingBri has it right (Don't mention study. 2 years ago when I was finishing, they cracked down hard on people studying legitimately)...and you read correctly: Either buy the ticket and don't use it or take a quick trip over the border.

I studied under my US passport and student visa while waiting my Euro citizenship. Turns out that when I had to leave after the student visa expired, I later re-entered on my newly minted EU passport and there was no fuss.

The only time that UKBA noticed me, was when I had entered from France on my EU passport and then was exiting with my US passport because I was flying to the US. Going past the passport control as I exited the UK, their machine beeped and they figured out that I now had duel citizenship.

In hindsight I will just enter and exit on the same passport and when I arrive in the US I show the US passport.
posted by talljamal at 2:22 AM on August 30, 2014

Go to your UK embassy with the application details, plane tickets, and proof of University enrolment and ask them to get involved. I know someone who had their long-delayed British passport turn up very quickly once the embassy made some calls. I also wouldn't assume it's going to arrive soon after he leaves, the UK passport system is a giant steaming mess right now. It's going to be so much easier all around if you sort it out before he leaves.
posted by shelleycat at 3:17 AM on August 30, 2014 [2 favorites]

Oh, also just to be clear: even if he's leaving tomorrow you should get the embassy involved. If he's still in the UK as a tourist on a US passport when the University year starts he won't legally be allowed to study. The system is such a mess right now you need to pro-actively work to avoid this happening, don't assume things will sort them self out in time on their own. If he ends up needing a stop-gap student visa then you'll have to involve the embassy anyway, so might as well get started. Good luck!
posted by shelleycat at 3:25 AM on August 30, 2014 [5 favorites]

Maybe he can get an emergency passport at the consulate/embassy? My daughter had one made for a trip to South Africa, and though the control was a little more rigorous, (give time for immigration controls when planning the departure), she went and came back fine.
posted by mumimor at 4:01 AM on August 30, 2014

Agreeing with shelleycat that you should contact your local UK embassy and get them to issue an emergency passport, since your son's has not arrived in time. It won't technically be legal for him to study if he's entered the country as a tourist on his US passport. I am not sure what institution he is going to, but the UK is really cracking down on immigration, and he may be required to submit immigration documentation to the university when he enters the school, even if he is a British citizen. Schools that admit students from abroad are required to keep their passport information on hand and also keep track of their students and their visas. If he can't produce a UK passport, or prove that he is a UK citizen, they may not let him enroll or attend his courses if he also can't produce a student visa.

Definitely phone up the embassy and let them know your situation. They usually have special departments to advise you in these kinds of circumstances. Call them up and ask them for advice before you send your child off to possibly do something legally dodgy.
posted by the_wintry_mizzenmast at 4:08 AM on August 30, 2014

One other thing to consider is that if he's planning to study a full time course at a public institution is that having a British passport isn't sufficient to qualify as a domestic student for fees purposes: you need to show you're based in the UK (or EEA) on an indefinite basis for reasons other than just the course, in case you weren't aware of that. So in view of that, if it's a university course, ponying up for the student visa might be just as affordable as any of the other workarounds.

Border officials are under a lot of pressure to refuse people entry at the moment, and that absolutely includes US citizens with decent cause to be in the country (ask me how I know), so it is worth being conservative on this issue.
posted by ambrosen at 4:12 AM on August 30, 2014 [2 favorites]

The UK also takes a very dim view of entering on one passport, and leaving on the other. Changing visa status while in the UK — unlike the US — is virtually impossible. They're also really tetchy at passport control; ms scruss (arriving on a valid fiancée visa) was initially denied entry at Heathrow, had her passport stamped with all sorts of rude red things, and threatened with immediate deportation just because the officer looked at her expired student visa and didn't turn the page to the valid one.
posted by scruss at 4:33 AM on August 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

Agreeing with everyone who has suggested getting higher authorities (embassy & university) involved in the situation. The UK passport office is a total mess right now, so Minimus' passport may indeed be a very long time in coming.

Also agreeing with everyone who has said that having a valid passport/visa is very important not just for entering the country, but to be allowed to do pretty much anything when here. Even 100% local UK citizens have to show their passports when applying for jobs with the local temp agency, for example.

The budget airline ticket out of the country might be a good backup in case the situation can't get sorted before his arrival.
posted by harujion at 5:34 AM on August 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

I strongly agree with posters who suggest calling your nearest British Embassy or Consulate and asking them for advice. Your son is a British citizen who needs his valid British passport to get back to the UK to study at a British university - it is their job to assist him.

Probably don't suggest to them he enter the UK under a tourist visa waiver on a US passport to take up residence illegally. They won't like that very much.
posted by bimbam at 6:32 AM on August 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

The UK also takes a very dim view of entering on one passport, and leaving on the other. Changing visa status while in the UK — unlike the US — is virtually impossible.

Supposedly (if you dig around on the UKBA website), this is not the case and British citizens can enter on whatever passport they want and sort it out with UKBA later. I came to say 'call the consulate' and possibly 'call UKBA if you can' (have his father make the calls if you can, especially if he sounds British), but wanted to point out their solution really might be 'travel on the US passport and sort it out later', but they ought to be able to scramble him a passport. (Passports are now printed centrally in the UK, but Washington still has to be able to get people something temporary quickly if their passport is stolen or whatever.)

Oh, just to cover all bases, he's been to the UK a bunch of times before as a tourist on his US passport, but because of his pending application HM Passport Office (and hence possibly UK immigration) now has details of his dual citizenship linked to his US passport number.

This should not be a huge concern. I have an awful lot of anxiety around immigration/crossing borders and I spend an undue amount of time worrying about telling the airline I'm traveling on a US passport and then entering the UK on a British passport. I hit some weird snafus when renewing my British passport this most recent time and had to send them a photocopy of my US passport, so they've definitely seen it. I went to Britain in May, giving the airline US passport details, going through UK immigration as British and then showing the airline the US one on the way out. At one point, UKBA talked about bringing in a system that would flag people overstaying visas based on the airline data, but the airlines kicked up a fuss, pointing out it would incorrectly flag dual citizens living in the UK as overstaying visas they never had (and since the US and Australia have similar entry/exit passport rules, that's a lot of people). I don't know what happened in the end and I've not been in a situation where I'd find out.
posted by hoyland at 8:28 AM on August 30, 2014

Student visa usually takes 3-6 months depending on the country of origin. He'll also be paying international tuition (not the normal £9,000 tuition) because he hasn't been living in the country for the last three years, as ambrosen mentioned.

I moved to the UK in 2007. I got a UK passport in 2012. In 2013, I registered for University. I had to present both passports (as proof of me being in the country for the last three years).
posted by Ms. Moonlight at 12:02 PM on August 30, 2014

Response by poster: Thanks for the suggestions everyone.

I will try calling the Embassy on Tuesday to see if they can help expedite the passport, but visiting them in DC isn't a practical option.

I have experience of getting emergency travel documents from the local Consulate for myself: they used to be friendly and helpful, but nowadays there's basically nobody there. If you call you end up in phone tree hell, with no recourse to a person and only an voice mailbox with the hope that someone might call you back; you can't even visit the consulate without a pre-arranged appointment. An emergency passport costs £95 (almost as much as a new 10 year passport, and they keep the fee if you apply but they don't issue the document) and doesn't really get him very much further; they take them away at the border. So he would be enter the UK as British citizen, but have no more documentation of his status than if he entered legally on his US passport.

Issues with "changing visa status" etc. while in the UK don't strictly apply, as he was a British citizen at birth. There are obviously legalities involved in entering the UK, but how he enters the country doesn't strictly alter his right as a citizen to live, study and work there (though of course a British passport is the usual way of establishing that right, if you were not born in the UK).

We know about the tuition issue, it's unfortunate but it's not strictly germane to the issue of his entering the country.
posted by Quinbus Flestrin at 1:44 PM on August 30, 2014

Well, if he is going regardless of passport in hand, load him up with the relevant paperwork. His birth certificate, proofs of residency, parents' (especially father's) birth certificates, copies of parents' passports, intended place of residence in the UK, list of family contacts in the UK, acceptance letter from university, enrollment confirmations, etc. Enable him to over-answer every question. And it would be good if he could get some kind of UK ID as soon as he gets through to UK soil.
posted by zennie at 6:16 AM on August 31, 2014

Worth pointing out that this:
The UK also takes a very dim view of entering on one passport, and leaving on the other
...cannot be true, logically, since the UK strongly prefers you arrive using a UK passport if you have one, and if you are also a US passport holder you legally may not enter the US without it.
posted by genghis at 9:07 PM on August 31, 2014

...cannot be true, logically, since the UK strongly prefers you arrive using a UK passport if you have one, and if you are also a US passport holder you legally may not enter the US without it.

This is false because what 'leaving' means in a country without exit control* is kind of ambiguous. US citizens are obliged to enter and leave the US on their US passports. Effectively, this means telling the airline you are American. (I think the actual rule might be that you have to have your US passport in your possession when you leave and show it when you enter. I don't know what happens if you have it and tell the airline your other citizenship.) The US doesn't care what passport you show to enter your destination country. So if you're an US/EU dual citizen travelling to the Schengen Zone, you might exit the US as American, go through Schengen immigration on your EU passport, go through Schengen exit control on your EU passport, fly to the US and enter the US on your US passport. The potential for a headache occurs when both countries are using the information you gave the airline and aren't thinking of dual citizens.

*I have dim memories of exit control in the UK as a kid. Or at least that you gave your passport to a man at a desk with a sign saying they'd search anyone traveling on an Irish passport.
posted by hoyland at 10:18 AM on September 1, 2014

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