Multiple sources report that Prince Harry and his wife Meghan Markle, duke and dutchess of Sussex, boarded a private jet to flee a remote private island in Vancouver to avoid the COVID-19 pandemic. Their escape plan: permanently relocate to a slightly more tax-favorable southern California, a Wuhan coronavirus epicenter subject to a statewide lockdown.
The reports of their hasty departure appear confirmed by President Donald Trump, who Sunday tweeted the following in response to an allegation that the royal couple is seeking taxpayer-funded U.S. Secret Service protection:
I am a great friend and admirer of the Queen & the United Kingdom. It was reported that Harry and Meghan, who left the Kingdom, would reside permanently in Canada. Now they have left Canada for the U.S. however, the U.S. will not pay for their security protection. They must pay!
Meghan and Harry left Canada in the nick of time before the shared border was shuttered to all nonessential travel. I suspect, however, that the couple’s flight to Canada had more to do with Harry losing his status on March 31, 2020, as an official member of the royal family, which may directly hinder his access to the United States, than it did the coronavirus. I presume Harry traveled to the country on a diplomatic passport with a diplomatic visa as a “member” of the royal family.
Harry Couldn’t Have Gotten an Immigrant Visa
A common misconception is that if you marry a U.S. citizen, you are automatically entitled to enter the country. Far from it. I conservatively estimate Harry and Meghan would have had to start the immigration process in 2018 if he were admitted to the country under a spousal-based immigrant visa petition, but mind you, they couldn’t have started it until after they were married in May of that year.
The first step requires a noncitizen’s spouse to file a petition to sponsor him, followed by an immigrant visa application that allows him to permanently move to the United States. This can take anywhere from eight to 21 months depending on which immigration service center is assigned to adjudicate the petition.
Once the noncitizen hurdles that obstacle, a pre-processing of the visa application occurs. After the National Visa Center completes its review, which can take three to four months, the consulate where the noncitizen lawfully resides then schedules an interview to issue a visa, allowing the noncitizen to board a plane to the states. From beginning to end, and under normal circumstances, it can take anywhere from one to two years to obtain the immigrant visa.
But circumstances are now far from normal. In response to the pandemic, the U.S. Consulates and Embassy in Canada and the United Kingdom are operating in a limited capacity for emergency services to U.S. citizens only. All routine consular services, including visa services, have been suspended — hence my suspicion that Harry gained admission to the country under his previously issued diplomatic passport, rather than with a freshly issued immigrant visa. There’s more.
How Did Harry Enter the States?
Unlike the unwashed masses who generally fly commercial to the United States, the pilot flying the private plane carrying the royal pair was required to file an Advance Passenger Information System manifest electronically to Customs and Border Protection for each person traveling aboard the aircraft. Regulations also require that electronic notices of arrival and departure and electronic manifests relative to travelers be submitted to Customs and Border Protection within specific timeframes. If my assumptions are correct and Harry was traveling on his diplomatic passport seeking admission to the United States as a diplomat, then he was presumably traveling to the states on behalf of the United Kingdom to engage solely in official duties as a member of the royal family.
Unfortunately for Harry, his grandmother, the queen, made it excessively clear those duties expired on March 31, 2020. Point being, if Harry entered the United States under anything other than an immigrant visa, or some type of temporary nonimmigrant visa with a dual-intent component that allowed him to seek permanent residence in the United States, it is very likely he committed a fraud upon admission that could subject him to the institution of removal proceedings: deportation.
Available waivers would allow him to remain in the country, but they would require demonstrating that Meghan would suffer extreme hardship if her spouse were deported and she were forced to return to the U.K. to live with her fabulously wealthy husband in an actual castle. I hope they have a good immigration lawyer.
There are alternative but less likely explanations of how Harry entered. He could have just used a U.K. passport under a program that allows citizens of the United Kingdom to enter the United States without a visa for 90 days, but he would be required to depart the country or risk becoming subject to an administrative order of removal that would bar him from returning to the country. It is also possible their pilot didn’t notify Customs and Border Protection of the passengers on board, and Harry simply walked off the plane without inspection, which would make him an “illegal” immigrant.
Coronavirus Is a Convenient ‘Unforeseen Emergency’
I suspect, however, that this analysis is nothing more than an exercise in frivolity as the likelihood of Harry being deported for entering the United States unlawfully is about as great as me being crowned king of England.
The law provides a seldom-used exception that waives documentary requirements in Customs and Border Protection’s discretion “on the basis of unforeseen emergency in individual cases.” There’s no definition of “unforeseen emergency” in the immigration regulations, which affords inspecting officers broad discretionary decision-making powers.
In sum, and paraphrasing Mel Brooks’ “History of the World, Part I,” it’s good to be the formerly sixth-in-line to be king. Welcome to America, Harry!