AN AUSTRALIAN woman has claimed she was deported from the United States shortly after arriving, because of the type of accommodation she was using.
Madolline Gourley, 32, had been booked to stay in a house through TrustedHouseSitters, a website that lets people sleep in properties for free, in return for petsitting.
Madolline had been travelling the world via the website for five years, and had saved as much as £16,000 on places to stay.
But on a recent trip to the US, she was refused entry to the country – with Border Patrol telling her that TrustedHouseSitters went against ESTA rules.
The problem occurred when she touched down in Los Angeles while she was trying to reach her final destination of Montreal, Canada.
She told Sun Online Travel: “When I handed my passport over to security, they saw that I’d spent 60 to 70 days in America earlier in the year, and then they started asking questions.”
Madolline, who lives in Brisbane, told them that she had been visiting the US but had returned home to Australia for several months.
She continued: “They had a couple of problems with that. They couldn’t quite understand why I was coming back to the States so soon and how I travel so often.”
Madolline explained to officials that she house-sat for free to help fund her trips, having used the service for years without any problems.
Following on from her answer, Madolline says the border official “wasn’t really happy with that”.
Asked to stay for further questioning, her phone and other items were removed before she was led to an interrogation booth in another room.
She said: “He asked questions about the house-sitting service. He wanted to know what I did during the day, where the house sitter stayed and how many houses I would be sitting for during my stay.
She explained that as a house-sitter she looked after the property and fed the pet, but she spent the rest of her time visiting art galleries, seeing Broadway shows and at other tourist attractions.
She said: “I was hopeful that they’d let me go, but at the same time I realised that I wasn’t going to Canada.”
“At the end of the second interview, he said ‘you are going to be deported.'”
After being detained for five hours in the airport, she was escorted to her flight back to Australia, and was left “upset and annoyed” – having planned a three-month trip.
Not only that, but Madolline’s work contracted had ended back home – and she was left fearing the issue could flag up with her passport at the border when she travelled elsewhere.
According to a spokesperson for US Customs and Border Protection (CBP), visitors entering the US using a visa waiver are banned from “any type of employment or getting compensation for services rendered”.
Since her deportation, Madolline has argued that the messaging regarding house-sitting isn’t clear.
She argues that services such as feeding a cat shouldn’t be classed as employment because money hasn’t exchanged hands, and has called on them to issue a warning on their website.
She said: “TrustedHouseSitters need to put up messaging on their website and app to warn future sitters of the risks they face when travelling.”
Since being deported, Madolline has remained in Australia and said she won’t be renewing her membership with TrustedHouseSitters when it expires.
A Trusted Housesitters spokesperson told the Sun Online: “We are aware that Madolline was refused entry to the US because she ‘is an intending immigrant without an immigrant visa’ and we are seeking legal advice on the situation.
“We are also seeking further clarification on the document explaining the additional context behind her deportation that has been censored in the version we have seen. We feel that these censored sentiments may also be relevant to the rationale behind her refusal to entry, and we would like to ensure we have the complete picture.”
“Having previously taken legal advice from immigration lawyers both in the UK and the US, we have been advised that, as the primary reason for travel is leisure, pet sitting with TrustedHousesitters doesn’t contravene immigration guidelines. It is important, however, that people check the individual country visa and immigration guidelines before travelling as there is a risk they may be refused entry if they do not have the correct documentation in place.
“All our members are fully informed about the requirements for international sitting. Every member who has an international sit confirmed is sent a series of emails including the International sit information and a link to the letters we have had drawn up by immigration lawyers which house sitters can show if needed to help border control officials understand that housesitting is not regarded as work.
“It is essential to us that all of our members are in a position to explain to immigration officials the nature of the TrustedHousesitters platform, and that is why we provide our customers with information on this issue.”