Saturday, April 23, 2016

Tourist Profiling and My Tough Experience with Israeli immigration






Some people who know me as a frequent traveler have expressed bewilderment with my jet setter lifestyle, thinking that everything is easy and comfortable when you hit the road. There is some truth to that, of course. Those awesome moments when you see and experience something for the first time, those are something you just can’t get enough of.
But the truth is, there were a lot of times during my life as a solo traveler when I felt extremely uncomfortable and vulnerable. This is especially true when visiting richer countries that regard Filipino tourists as “suspicious”, given the track record of thousands of workers who jump ship and overextend their stay.
For example, during my first visit in Japan in 2005 at the height of the crackdown against illegal entertainers, some immigration guy approached my fellow travelers and I in a train station in Nagoya and demanded that we present our passports and tourists visa. All were sorted out but it was the start of many more uncomfortable encounters with immigration agents.
But I think, the most nerve wracking experience I had was during my recent travel to Israel.
I knew beforehand that getting through security and passport control was going to be quite tricky for a number of reasons:
the long queues at the passport control
1. Israel is one of the most politically volatile places on the planet because of its longstanding feud with its neighboring Arab countries and the Palestinian Authority which it controls. A week before my visit, West bank sent some missiles.
2. This country is a haven for Filipino workers and there are lots of workers posing as tourists.
All my pre-arrival fears were starting to come true after my stop-overs in Hong Kong and Zurich, Switzerland.
In Hong Kong, there were minimal problems knowing that it is a major tourist destination for Filipinos since there is no visa required.
But in Switzerland, all Arab-looking passengers were set aside and were screened thoroughly. I also experienced tighter scrutiny not as a potential danger, but as a potential immigrant. In the end, I got a free pass.
It was when I finally landed at Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv-Yafo when all my weird experiences began.
As soon as I got out of the airplane, not a minute passed before two Israeli immigration agents approached me. Out of the more than 200 passengers on that plane, I think that only three people were approached outside the plane.
Everyone else was staring at us and I felt a bit humiliated.
arrival hall at Ben Gurion airport
The Israeli agent asked the usual questions. Why Israel? What are you going to do here? Where are you staying. Those easy questions, I handled very well. But when she dug deeper, I felt cold sweat trickle down my face.
Why are you traveling alone? How Long are you staying? How much money do you have? Do you know anyone in particular in Israel? She asked for the specific place I was staying and directions on how to get there. All the while, she was looking at my passport, certificate of employment, and she was also staring intently to my eyes.
After 10 minutes or so, I think after she was convinced that I was a legitimate tourists, she finally let me go.
Then came the further scrutiny at the passport control.
The agent informed me off the bat that Israeli is a good destination for workers. And that most Filipino tourists who visit are part of a tour.  Solo travelers from the US and Europe are quite common but not so common among Filipinos. I was gonna argue but decided to just keep quiet.
I asked for a separate stamp, since I read that Arab countries do not let travelers who have been to Israeli through.
She questioned me why, insisting that she can cross the border easily even with her Israeli passport.
She asked for my ID and certificate of employment and demanded that I explain what a PR manager/media relations person does in everyday life.
She asked some of the questions asked earlier by her fellow agent and when I gave her satisfactory answers, she let me go.
She gave me an entry visa valid for three months. It was in a separate sheet of paper, which you will use to get out of the airport electronic barriers.
It was tough!!!! and it was definitely one of the strictest passport control experience I’ve ever had.
To be fair, I think they were strict to all at the passport control. But Western tourists and those belonging to travel tours got it easier.
So if you wanna visit Israel, anytime soon, you have to prepare yourself for some serious immigration security.

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