The choice of accommodation that could mean that you are rejected at the border with the United States

US border control tourists house sitters home swaps home stays – Getty

Traveling or simply transiting the United States can be a stressful experience regardless of the purpose of the trip. With its ultra-strict immigration officers and comprehensive security measures, the simplest vacation can feel like a diplomatic visit. It turns out that a seemingly harmless activity – house sitting – has the potential to cause difficulties.

Last year, Australian traveler Madolline Gourley volunteered to care for strangers’ pets in exchange for free housing in Canada and the United States, under the rules of the standard 90-day tourist establishment. She planned to fly from Brisbane to Toronto, via Los Angeles, to care for cats in Canada, then move to New Orleans and Baltimore.

Gourley had prior experience: She was known in the home cleaning community for affordable, pet-focused travel to places like Seattle, New York, Austin, Salt Lake City, Denver, Chicago, and Portland. Everyone had provided her with cheap housing and Instagram-friendly animal roommates. More importantly, she has visited every city using the Esta without any problems.

This time, however, she claims she was denied entry to the United States during her layover by border guards, who suspected the business was technically business, not tourism. Although he had provided evidence to the contrary (and would have been subjected to a strange line of abortion interrogations), Gourley was put back on a plane to Sydney. So how did the problem arise and can you really get pushed back to the border for house sitting?

What do house sitting sites say?

One of the most popular agencies, Trusted Housesitters, categorically denies that house sitting is work. Both homeowners and would-be guests pay a commission (normally around £ 100) to the site to list their services, but neither actually changes any money. The site is careful to describe itself as an introductory service – essentially, it connects stakeholders, but nothing more.

house sitting vacation home exchange travel - Madolline Gourley

house sitting vacation home exchange travel – Madolline Gourley

As most users communicate with those in their country, the distinction between work and accommodation usually doesn’t matter, as visas are not involved. Abroad, however, this can get more complicated. Evidently aware of the ambiguity, Trusted Housesitters provides “introductory letters” on its website to be presented to border guards, explaining the nature of home travel.

In that letter, it is stated that the company has “sought the advice of a US immigration attorney” and “respectfully does not consider the agreements to fall into the category of work.” This is not exactly decisive, and it is worth noting that the letter does not appear in the part of the site titled “Do I need a visa to stay abroad?”

What do immigration lawyers advise?

Even immigration lawyers seem unable to agree here. Alex Jovy, of Davies & Associates, says travelers who enter the United States to sit at home are, technically, “compensated for receiving accommodation in exchange for their services, and as such can be seen as applying for a work visa.” , even if they are not paid.

However, Elizabeth Goss, an immigration attorney at Goss Associates, disagrees. “If house sitting is in exchange for a place to stay while I’m in the US on vacation, I’d say that’s not a problem,” she says.

“It’s not a job: trading here is a place to be, which is an advantage that the landlord recognizes. The two sides are doing each other a favor and there are passive benefits for both sides. “

Goss believes this means that travelers only need to apply for an Esta and that it would not be correct to suggest that a work visa was required for the trip.

Is house sitting considered a job by the US authorities?

This is even more difficult to confirm. US border authorities refuse to comment on individual cases, but generally say the onus is on the traveler to prove they aren’t working.

This means that during a letter from Trusted Housesitters should be sufficient to allow entry into the country, the traveler may be vulnerable to an overzealous border guard. A candidate in the United States must “get over everything grounds for inadmissibility, “which means that if there is any element of their story that sounds dubious, they could be quickly put on the plane to go home.

home swaps home travel - Madolline Gourley

home swaps home travel – Madolline Gourley

Immigration officials can request information about a traveler’s funds, a factor that may not work in favor of the frugal house sitter. Trusted Housesitters says it has saved its members around £ 50 million in accommodation costs and pet sitting expenses, however this aspect of saving money could prove prohibitive if officials believe travelers don’t have enough money to support themselves.

For some regular home sitters, it’s not worth the risk. Madolline Gourley, for now, has put her somewhat carefree life on hold from crossing continents to meet cats.

Following the debacle, the website now explicitly advises travelers not to mention house sitting to border guards at all. Instead, he says travel should be described as a visit to a friend – something that, technically, would have the same transactional value. Of course, if there is a fee, the trip would be considered work and should be treated as such when applying for a visa.

Are there any other common circumstances that could see me pushed away from the US border?

The aftermath of Donald Trump’s final days in office continue to impact travel. When the 45th President left office, he put Cuba on a list of “terrorist sponsoring states” along with North Korea, Iran and Syria. According to the US Embassy in London, if a traveler has visited the country since March 1, 2011, he is now disqualified from the Esta program, which means he must purchase the full (much more expensive) visa and attend an interview in the capital.

This isn’t entirely clear either, however, as other sources – including the US embassy in Paris – say the ban applies only to those who have visited Cuba since January 12, 2021, when the country was added to the list. Driving is, again, rather opaque and the application is patchy, although problems have been reported at the border.

If you are planning a trip to Cuba, we recommend that you request a stamp on a visitor pass instead of the passport itself, so it won’t cause any problems on a future trip to the United States.

What are the Covid rules for entering the United States?

Proof of full vaccination is still required to enter the United States, although a negative Covid test is no longer required. Those who are not vaccinated can only visit the United States in exceptional circumstances; children aged 17 and under are exempt from the vaccination requirement.

Some services such as shops and restaurants may require visitors to wear masks, although they are no longer mandatory at the federal level.

What is your position on the issue of house sitting as a job rather than as a tourism? Have you ever had a difficult experience on the border with the United States? Please share your stories below

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