Attention house sitters: your journey could end at a border crossing

Madolline Gourley had done this many times before with no problems. But coming to Canada was not planned.

The 32-year-old from Brisbane, Australia, found a website and lifestyle that allowed her to explore other countries more cheaply than someone else who would need to find paid accommodation along the way.

“It sounded like a great way to travel the world without worrying about things like hotel expenses,” she said.

Gourley has signed up with TrustedHousesitters, a US company that connects aspiring house sitters with people who would like to have someone in their home to usually look after pets when they’re not around.

In recent years, Gourley has made several house sitting trips, mostly to the United States.

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But in June, Gourley hit a roadblock while on a house-sitting trip to Canada. When she landed in Los Angeles to continue on another flight, US Customs and Border Protection officials refused to let her in.

Gourley was taken off the normal processing line and questioned by more than one officer, she said. Eventually, Gourley says she was told her planned house-sitting trip made her ineligible.

“(A CBP official) then told me that house sitting is illegal on a tourist visa, even if you don’t get paid: things like feeding the cat, walking the dog, pulling weeds — these are all forms of productive activities,” he said Gourley in an interview from her home in Brisbane.

House sitters like Gourley don’t get paid for looking after someone’s pets, but they can stay in someone’s home for free.

Despite this, CBP officials wrote in a document shared with Global News that Gourley “did not have an employment permit to work legally” and as such would be “denied entry”. Gourley received a copy of the document describing why the Australian was not allowed to enter the United States

US border officials didn’t care that Gourley had a ticket to Montreal and that she had been house-sitting in Canada and not in the United States.

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Gourley had an email confirmation for her flight to Canada, although she had not yet been issued a boarding pass.

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Eventually, Gourley was informed that she could not enter the United States. She was put on a return flight to Australia at her own expense.

“Frustrated, angry, upset because they weren’t willing to listen to me,” said Gourley, who claims border officials firmly believe house sitting is “not an acceptable form of activity on a tourist visa.”

When asked by TrustedHousesitters, a spokeswoman said: “It is implausible that a US official was concerned about the purpose of her visit to Canada.”

“After seeking legal advice from immigration attorneys, we were advised that caring for pets with Trusted Housesitters does not violate immigration policy as the primary reason for travel is leisure,” Leonie Garfield said in an email.

Garfield said members are “fully briefed on the requirements for international meetings” and “it is vital to us that all of our members are able to explain the nature of the TrustedHousesitters platform to immigration officers.”

Had she reached Canada, Gourley might also have been questioned about the arrangement and refused entry.

The Canada Border Services Agency directed Global News to the Canadian government’s website, which defines work as “any activity for which you would normally be paid or which would be valuable work experience.”

When asked whether house sitting was acceptable or considered a form of labour, the agency’s senior spokesman wrote in an email that “we cannot speculate on specific outcomes as each traveler presents to a border guard under different circumstances.” .

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“When assessing admissibility, CBSA border agents consider all relevant factors before making a decision,” said Rebecca Purdy.

Canadians traveling to another country to house or pet sit may be interrogated and possibly denied entry if deemed inadmissible.

For Gourley, the consequences of being denied entry to the United States are significant.

“I am not allowed to return on a tourist visa. For something I thought was going overboard… the punishment for me is particularly harsh,” she said.

Gourley said TrustedHousesitters needed to make potential travelers more aware of the risks they might face when entering another country.

Instead, Gourley says the company blocked her from commenting on her social media accounts after she raised her case and tried to warn others that they too could be refused entry.

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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