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Visa dangers for volunteers

Discussion in 'Frequently Asked Questions' started by happymarkos, Apr 21, 2017 at 3:44 PM.

  1. happymarkos

    happymarkos HappyMark

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    Volunteered in Camino Office in St JPDP October 2014 and October 2016
    Lisbon to Santiago 2016
    Last year after walking the Portuguese Camino I spent 2 weeks as a volunteer in St Jean Pied De Port at the Acceuil which is the Pilgrim's information centre on the rue de la Citadelle.
    After finishing my volunteer commitment I flew from Biarritz to Stansted in the UK and expected an easy time clearing passport control. Entry is usually easy as I have an Australian passport and entitled to a 6 months visitors visa.
    Not this time!
    The passport officer asked me what I had been doing in Europe and I explained I had walked in Portugal and Spain and then volunteered in St Jean. That's when the trouble started.
    He asked if I had been paid to which I answered no. Then he asked if accommodation was provided to which I answered yes. Then he stated that receiving accommodation was the equivalent to being paid and therefore I had violated the terms of my visitors visa by "working".
    He told me he could have me barred from 30 countries if he put a stamp in my passport about me working while on a visitor's visa. I was really concerned and worried I would be refused entry. Despite my protests that I was not "working" he insisted that under the rules I had been deemed have done so. Fortunately he let me off with a warning.
    I contacted a UK immigration lawyer afterwards who told me the UK passport officer had no jurisdiction outside of the UK and that what he said about my volunteer work in France was technically none of his business. Nevertheless he put me on notice that volunteering in the EU is fraught with difficulties apart from the danger of breaking the Schengen 90 day rule.
    Anyone else had similar experiences?
    Happy Mark
     
    julie, William Marques and falcon269 like this.
  2. waveprof

    waveprof Enthusiast

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    Next time I wouldn't say I'd been volunteering.....
     
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  3. peregrina2000

    peregrina2000 Moderator Staff Member Donating Member Donating Member

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    We have the same problem here in the US with international students who want to get externship experience in the real world. If they provide anything of service to their employer, they have to be paid, under the Fair Labor Standards Act, but that's a visa problem. If they don't provide anything of service to their employer, they can be there for free, but as you might imagine it's hard to concoct a situation in which an employer voluntarily takes on an intern with the expectation that that individual won't provide any benefit to the employer's operation. So, what happens is that all of this is essentially finessed with a wink-wink nod-nod so long as there aren't egregious situations, like when MTV was sued by a bunch of former interns who alleged they were entitled to monetary compensation. http://www.latimes.com/entertainmen...om-settles-intern-lawsuit-20150312-story.html But of course, for our international students, paid employment could trigger a real visa problem. So it's a conundrum to say the least.

    It is unsettling when the best (or only) option is lying, though.
     
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  4. falcon269

    falcon269 sidra; no commercial interests

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    Tit for tat.

    The U.S. has been giving a lot of foreigners a lot of grief on entry. As a result, European countries are being equally "dickish."

    I have found the UK to be particularly retaliatory, but I am surprised that they would give an Australian a hard time. Perhaps they have become accustomed to being abusive. They do it because they can. I am in my seventies, generally cleancut, and carry almost nothing. However, my last three times through Heathrow airport, I have been given pat-downs that would have made them proud in a Vietnamese "steam and cream." I guess it is the times (and it is free, but no kissing).
     
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  5. Kathar1na

    Kathar1na Member

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    I have no direct experience but the above sounds about right. Also, the EU as such does not have rules on volunteer work for non-residents and foreign nationals that are as strict or as strictly applied as the USA's. There is an EU Directive with some general rules, but first of all, the UK - as so often in EU Justice&Home Affairs matters - has officially opted out of applying them, and secondly, it is explicitly stated that they are not mandatory and that individual EU countries can chose to apply them or not. Also, these rules mostly apply to voluntary work of longer duration, i.e. several months and up to one year.

    Which means that it all depends on the country in question - in this case France or Spain. I would think that large consumers of voluntary work like the pilgrims offices in SJPP and SDC know the national rules in force for volunteers from non-EU countries. I'm pretty confident that this kind of short-term voluntary activity is allowed for holders of tourist visas. Do you volunteers even get an employment-like contract from them?
     
    Last edited: Apr 22, 2017 at 10:13 AM
  6. marylynn

    marylynn Active Member Donating Member

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    (2017 midJuly-midOct. Hærvejen in Denmark, CF, Hospitalera)
    Last year I received an email from the coordinator of Volunteer Hospitaleros in Spain that said, "I would like you to go to Calzadilla de los Hermanillos" and indicated the date I should arrive. There was a list of expectations that I had agreed to when I applied and I had completed an official training course in Toronto, but the email was far from being an employment contract! I printed the email and took it with me, just in case there was some kind of problem.
     
  7. LTfit

    LTfit Veteran Member Donating Member

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    As @marylynn mentioned the Spanish Camino Association responsible for organizing hospitaleros voluntarios (HOSVOL) in donation ONLY albergues along various Caminos in Spain does not give you a contract. After one follows one of the approved courses and you give your availability, you are "offered" a 2 week placement. How can this be construed as employment, especially when they are run on a donation only basis?
     
  8. cher99840

    cher99840 Veteran Member Donating Member

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    I thought it was just me. First I "flunked" the scan. Then I had a pat down. Then I flunked the scan again. Then my braid was poked and probed because "the machine wasn't expecting hair there". In the meantime everything was taken out of my pack, and some of my stuff sacks were sorted thru. It was an experience!!
     
  9. Rebekah Scott

    Rebekah Scott Camino Busybody Donating Member Donating Member

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    I coordinate and recruit international volunteers for two albergues on the Caminos de Santiago. Each year I write letters to visa functionaries telling them why the volunteer needs to come to Spain, why the camino is important, and why we need their citizens to come and help us.
    They tell us they're upholding laws meant to protect workers from exploitation, and protect the nation's workers from having their jobs sold off to a shorter bid. But the fundamental problem, IMHO, goes un-addressed.
    If businesses and industries paid their workers fair wages, and treated workers like humans rather than assets/liabilities, nations would not need to use their border guards to harrass well-meaning people from other lands who are following the dictates of their hearts.
    The border guards and those whose orders they follow have no clue what volunteering is about. Their gods are Money, and Me First. To use the volunteers in some spiteful "tit for tat" visa spat is below contempt, and to equate their free-will kindness with paid wages shows a new level of bureaucratic stupidity.
     
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  10. t2andreo

    t2andreo Veteran Member Donating Member

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    I practice, "Don't Ask, Don't Tell..." at border and passport controls. If they do not ask me a question, I do not say anything. But, I answer all questions put to me directly and truthfully, albeit with appropriate "spin" as needed.

    Unlike my normal self, I control my tendency to be wordy and talkative. That is NOT a time to be chatty.

    I do not volunteer anything beyond social pleasantries like: "good morning..., or how is the weather today..." delivered with the best smile I can muster after getting out of the "cannoli tube with wings..."

    I used to do this "passport control" early in my professional career. I know how the game is played. And, make no mistake about it, it is a choreographed "dance." The two partners have their roles and "steps."

    The more sullen and seemingly arrogant you project to the passport control officer when you shuffle to the front of the passport queue, the more officious, brusk or surly they tend to be. They also tend to come up with additional questions to ask you. The officer does not necessarily care about your answers. They ARE interested in seeing how you react to being asked the question. Remember, these officers are trained and experienced in recognizing body language. Chill...

    The officer's job is to identify people who ought not be admitted, while facilitating entry of those who are readily admissible. They are working to a mental list of indicators and evidence they have been trained to recognize. In that relationship, your "job" is to fly under the radar as politely and pleasantly as you can, and just get through the encounter.

    In my long experience, I have also found that putting some people in a uniform and giving them a badge can make them insufferable. Not everyone can handle the authority of the position equally well. This cuts across nations and cultures. No one is immune from acting like a jerk when they are given some limited authority.

    There is an old Japanese adage that goes like this: " the nail that sticks up gets hammered down..." My counter to this when encountering any border or passport control is "DO NOT BE THE NAIL..."

    I hope this helps someone.
     
    Last edited: Apr 23, 2017 at 3:38 PM
  11. Kathar1na

    Kathar1na Member

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    But it isn't even certain that there is a "tit for tat" visa spat for volunteers, just an incidence with one - perhaps overzealous - UK border control person who may or may not be well informed about foreign laws. BTW, when I go to the UK - and I'm a passport holder and resident of EU countries - I'm regularly asked about the purpose of my visit and how long I intend to stay. Always amuses me. I am an old European woman and look the part :). They are constantly tightening immigration control at their borders. Unlike many neighbouring countries, they don't have domestic control systems like residence cards etc.

    What's the actual legal situation in Spain (and France for that matter)? Someone who enters from the US, Australia, Canada and intends to spend most of their time walking, ie that is the main purpose of visit, with a 2 weeks stint as a volunteer and leaving before the 90 days are up. Are they really not covered by their tourist visa/Schengen visa waiver???
     
    Last edited: Apr 22, 2017 at 5:26 PM
  12. movinmaggie

    movinmaggie Veteran Member Donating Member

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    I'm still a bit fuzzy on this topic. Maybe my answer is here somewhere, but for now, my question is...If I wish to serve as Hospitalera at one of the Donativos in 2018, do I require a visa for this purpose
    ( coming from Canada) or does the visa have to do with number of days allowed in Spain? My interest is in serving and walking on the Primitivo, as long as my body/ health still says it's a go.
     
  13. Kathar1na

    Kathar1na Member

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    I think this will go quickly into the political. Suffice it to say that in the case of the UK, the issue is not that they want to stop people from volunteer work but how their laws define volunteer work, namely unpaid work, ie no pay, not in money and not in other forms. Let's face it, most people do volunteer work where they live and don't need accommodation provided by a charity.
     
  14. Trude

    Trude Member

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    I am Australian and have worked as a volunteer Hospitalario, I find in Europe you can't even get a stamp in your passport let alone have anyone ask you questions. The only thing you have to be very careful about is not to stay longer than 3 months without a special visa. It's not like the USA where you can whip to Canada and Mexico and come back in. The Shengen area allows you to stay 3 months in a 6 month period. I think you had an immigration officer
    Who does not feel the love.
     
  15. peregrina2000

    peregrina2000 Moderator Staff Member Donating Member Donating Member

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    Thanks t2. Everything you say resonates with me and my experience. Knowing all that you do, how would you answer the question "what were you doing in Spain" if you were the OP and were asked that question in immigration? I am all in favor of "spinning", but I'm not sure how to spin "I was a volunteer in an albergue for two weeks." I suppose he could have said something like "I was on the Camino de Santiago for six weeks", but then what to say if asked -- and what were you doing there? Anyway, I doubt many hospitaleros will have that problem going home, but I am curious.
     
  16. happymarkos

    happymarkos HappyMark

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    Hi Marylyn
    It wasn't whether or not I had any paper work about my volunteering it was simply that being provided with somewhere to sleep for free is deemed to having received payment and therefore working and therefore violating my visitors visa.
    The irony of course is that it costs all of us who volunteer. Air train and bus fares as well as incidentals so we support the local economy. I guess the rule was brought in after some sort of scams where people were being exploited or locals couldn't get work as it was being done by volunteers.
    Happymarkos.
     
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  17. Kathar1na

    Kathar1na Member

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    We should be careful to keep issues apart and not mix it all up in a "Europe" pot because there is a danger that it will unnecessarily worry future hospitaleros in SPAIN or FRANCE.

    "Europe" has some common rules and LOTS of different rules.

    There is no common European definition of what constitutes volunteer work. There are no common European rules about the conditions for short term volunteers needing a specific visa if at all.

    If you are Australian, you get a stamp in your passport when you come from Australia and want to enter either Spain or France or the UK. It is not uncommon to be asked questions when you want to enter the UK, no matter where you come from.

    It was good that @happymarkos informed about the situation he encountered at UK customs. But bear in mind what the UK immigration lawyer said about the question and interpretation and threat: it was none of their business.

    One thing is certain: There is a world of difference between legal provisions about voluntary work in Spain (or France) and in the UK!!! And in the UK in particular, charities play a much larger economic rule than in the other countries. Just think of the London Marathon where you are hard pressed to get a place if you don't commit yourself to raise hundreds of pounds - or even more than a thousand pounds - for a charity. Unheard of in Paris or Madrid, or Brussels and Berlin for that matter.
     
    Last edited: Apr 23, 2017 at 9:30 AM
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  18. movinmaggie

    movinmaggie Veteran Member Donating Member

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    And then there is India. I've served as a volunteer each year for 3 months from 2006 to 2014 for a Canadian non sectarian charity (they follow the tenets of Mahatma Gandhi).
    Every year the visa was changed for similar similar issues here. Finally they got it down to something like 'Unpaid Employment Visa'. Yes volunteers pay for their travel, Medical Insurance, visa, any required shots and medications, but it all cames back as tax receipts. Very beneficial at tax time.
    Though our lovely husband and wife founders and Directors prefer that we be referred to as 'Cultural Interns', as we are there to learn the culture while serving.
     
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  19. Kathar1na

    Kathar1na Member

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    :)
    @t2andreo, will you volunteer again with the pilgims office in SDC? Do they provide you with accommodation? Can you contact someone knowledgable at the Cathedral about volunteering and visa requirements in Spain? One would hope they know what they are doing and can reassure people.
     
    Last edited: Apr 23, 2017 at 9:33 AM
  20. happymarkos

    happymarkos HappyMark

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    Yes I have volunteered there before and hope to do so again. Accommodation is provided and there is a washing machine and kitchen. I might add it can be very tiring as up at 6.30am and often not to bed until well after 10pm 7 days a week and even later the nights the late train comes in from Bayonne. Can be after midnight by the time we have found accommodation for people. Was exhausted after 2 weeks and I was there at a relatively quiet time in October. We had about 1000 people come in the first week ( started 10 October 16) and about 600 the second week as most of the albergues had or were closing. Bear in mind the Route Napoleon is officially closed from 1 November.
    Very rewarding talking to people who have walked from distant France or other parts of Europe as well as people just starting out.
    My limitation is that English is my primary language and well over 50% of people coming in have English as their first or second language; however I am not that helpful for people who only speak French, Italian, Spanish etc. You can contact the Accueil directly if interested. Monique Asp organises the roster: monasp1301@gmail.com.
     
  21. Kathar1na

    Kathar1na Member

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    Also, just in case ;), bear in mind that you yourself may not say anything but your social media posts may do a lot of talking. Read the story of a young German student who had a valid tourist visa for spending a 4 months vacation in Cleveland with family. Customs at Philadelphia airport where she landed did not believe her. When she mentioned that she communicated with her hosts through Facebook, they took her phone and saw that there was mention of occasional babysitting for the family and maybe for co-workers (so that she had something to do and not get too bored, no mention of money). "Who vacations in Cleveland? You are trying to work illegally in the United States. If you don't get back to Germany in half an hour, you will be put in jail." And so she was put on a plane back to Frankfurt. The year was 2015, btw.

    OTOH, make the UK customs person look at all your Camino photos. He or she may let you go before you reach number 238 out of 702 photos. :cool:
     
  22. t2andreo

    t2andreo Veteran Member Donating Member

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    If snagged on your way out, at exit passport control, they might let you off with a warning, or they might take you aside for additional questioning, fingerprinting, photography, etc. In the US, that is what we would do if you were found to be a "visa overstay."

    However, in the latter case (a formal interview) KNOW that you are now in the EU wide (run by Europol - the EU police agency) database. In future, you will either be hassled at any entry to the EU or you will be refused and told not to return without a formal visa in your passport, issued by a Schengen country embassy or consulate in your home country. But, they will let you leave.:eek:

    If my volunteer work was adjacent to walking a Camino, I might state that: "I was here walking the Camino de Santiago (my credencial can backstop that claim), and after that I helped out at a donativo albergue run by the Church..." (or a subordinate organization - its all the same legally).

    If pressed, I might tell them that everyone who serves there (try not to use the term 'work') is a volunteer. They needed help, and I was available. I was not paid for my time. I was given a very basic place to sleep, but that was it.

    If, as is usually the case with me, I travel direct to Santiago from Florida to do my month-long volunteer work at the Pilgrim Office each summer, and IF asked. I would tell them this, which I have rehearsed and "murder boarded."

    "At Santiago de Compostela, at the end of the Camino de Santiago, pilgrims from all over the world arrive after completing their pilgrimages to the shrine of the Apostle Santiago at the Cathedral. To attest to completing this difficult journey, pilgrims are entitled to a formal document from the Church stating that they have properly completed this pilgrimage...

    ...The Cathedral has an office, staffed by volunteers from Spain and from around the world to handle requests for this document. I was honored to be asked to help providing those documents to people who do not speak Spanish. I am honored to be asked to return each year. I donate my time to the Church (Cathedral) freely. I am not paid for my time by the Church (Cathedral). I feed myself while I am there and I live with friends for the month."

    (This last bit is technically true, as the others sharing the provided flat are already, or fast become friends.)

    If you are volunteering, especially for any organization with ANY ties to the Catholic Church, or the Xunta de Galicia, etc. you need to include that fact in your answer. Regardless of what specific organization, local church, club, or even town that actually operates the albergue or other facility you will volunteer at, they are all operating, directly or indirectly, under the sanction or blessing of the Catholic Church in Spain (or Portugal).

    This is an easy connection to make. They (all of these albergues, etc.) are all supporting the Camino de Santiago. At it's core, and originally, the Camino is a Christian "institution." The Catholic Church remains the custodian of that 1,200 year old legacy and part of Spain's patrimony, for all persons. Your volunteer service is critical to maintaining proper standards, so that people continue to make this journey and in doing so, contribute to the Spanish economy,

    Despite increasing secularization across much of Europe, Spain and Portugal remain among the most "catholic" countries in Western Europe. This is a statistical fact, not supposition. Hence, you are unlike to get much "push back" from any Spanish, or Portuguese official.

    All of the above is true. I have NEVER been challenged. Perhaps it is my grey hair and serious disposition... who knows? But, I do reserve an ace card, that I keep in my proverbial "pocket" just in case... I won't explain further except to say it entails my one phone call...and "friends" in high places...;)

    I hope this helps someone.
     
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  23. Kathar1na

    Kathar1na Member

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    But, but ... nobody has ever reported any issues concerning visa and short-term voluntary work as hospitaleros when entering or leaving Spain or Portugal or France for that matter. Are there any issues, in law or in practice??? I think that's what people want to know.

    The OP was questioned by UK border staff when entering the UK and the questioning concerned previous volunteering in France. It makes no sense to me unless they tried to assess the intentions of the OP during his upcoming stay in the UK and to warn him about volunteering in the UK against payment in money or other benefits, according to UK laws in force.

    I've been wondering about the threat of being barred from 30 countries. Who could they be?
    Not Schengen - it's 26
    Not the EU - it's 28
    Not the EEA - it's 31
    Commonwealth ??? :cool:
     
    Last edited: Apr 23, 2017 at 4:59 PM
  24. t2andreo

    t2andreo Veteran Member Donating Member

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    I am not aware personally of anyone having problems like this. So, it is difficult to discuss specific cases.

    In that regard, this dialog is mainly hypothetical. However, one reasonably presumes someone, somewhere, has at sometime, had a problem.

    That fact has not been made apparent here though.

    I believe this is a problem best left not worried about too much. Just do your Camino or volunteer work and trust in Santiago to sort it.

    I hope this helps.
     
    Last edited: Apr 23, 2017 at 5:51 PM
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  25. Trude

    Trude Member

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    Camino Norte 2014 Camino Francais, 2015, 2016,
    A little away from the subject but whilst walking the Via de la Plata, that I am still on. I was stopped by the Guardia Civial whilst walking along the track. I had to produce my passport. They held me up for 15 mins trying to find the stamp in my passport for entering Spain. I told them I flew into Barcelona. Of course no stamp could be found. Eventualy I worked out that I came by Norwegian Airlines from the USA so the Europe stamp was Oslo. What a hassle. First time in 6 Caminos that has happened.
     
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  26. fraluchi

    fraluchi Veteran Member Donating Member

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    Surely Santiago, the patron saint of Spain?:)
     
  27. happymarkos

    happymarkos HappyMark

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    Lisbon to Santiago 2016
    I am not 109% it was 30 countries, this is what I recall from a very stressful situation. I travelled from Biarritz with an elderly US couple who had done the Notre and were in transit to Heathrow from Stansted and were catching a flight 4 hours later. They were grilled as well and had to show flight bookings. Perhaps unkempt people with backpacks arose excessive suspicion (joke). It was very stressful for them as well.
     
  28. happymarkos

    happymarkos HappyMark

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    Lisbon to Santiago 2016
    W
    Hello
    Wlove to hear about your walk as am planning it for 2018
    Happymarkos
     
  29. Trude

    Trude Member

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    Hi Happymarkos, I personally think the Via De La Plata is beautiful from Salamanca on. I found it boring before that, lots of open plains, flat walking, no shade and no water. Some nice villages and towns but for a quieter Camino I would do the Norte. Of course everyone likes different things. Hope this helps.
     
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  30. happymarkos

    happymarkos HappyMark

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    Lisbon to Santiago 2016
    Trude
    Thank you
    Happymarkos
     
  31. Shakespearshakes

    Shakespearshakes New Member

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    Very good approach t2andreo. I have travelled over frontiers for almost 50 years now. If you look for trouble at a border you will most certainly find it.
    The border officer's job is to disern who should or should not be admitted. They do a difficult job and do not always get it right (said as someone who has been stuck in limbo between states ) As you say it is better to be the bending willow than the oak on such occassions.
     
    Last edited: Apr 26, 2017 at 9:06 PM
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