A CANADIAN visiting Sheffield says she was ‘treated like a criminal’ and detained for hours – because she volunteered at city charities.
Julie Lavergne spent a few hours a week helping city causes Under The Stars, Zest and the Cupola Gallery, after coming over on a tourist visa in September while her partner studied here.
However, when she left to extend her visa and presented paperwork with references from the charities at Gatwick Airport, the 33-year-old was detained for four hours, locked up and fingerprinted.
Julie, of Blair Athol Road, Nether Edge, said: “I proved I could fund my stay, proved I was leaving the country and thought I’d help my case by providing references from the organisations on how I’m occupying my time helping the community.
“I was ready for extra questioning, but was shocked at the criminal treatment. I was detained for four hours, locked up, photographed and had my fingerprints taken.
“I kept saying if I knew this was illegal, do you think I would give you the proof?”
Tourist visas are issued by the Home Office on the basis people do not intend to ‘take paid or unpaid employment’ - volunteer visas require a sponsor and are tightly regulated.
But Julie says she was unaware of those restrictions applying to small-time volunteering – as were others.
She said: “I was always honest with the Sheffield Volunteer Centre and the organisations that I was a visitor looking to busy myself until I return to Canada when my partner finished his studies.
“Never did I think that giving a few hours a week would be considered illegal.”
Julie’s visa was extended on the basis she ended all ‘illegal activities’ and her passport slapped with a warning, but she has been advised to stay in the country until her flight home in June, or to not return to England from a planned trip to Italy this May.
The UK Border Agency said: “It is the responsibility of the individual to ensure they adhere to the conditions of their visa.”