“No Passport, No Room!”
I looked up at the night receptionist slightly startled.
“I’m sorry?” I asked slightly confused.
“No Passport, No room! If you’re not British or from a Commonwealth country, and you don’t have your passport, I can’t give you the room” he explained politely.
I looked up at the clock. It was almost midnight.
I was conscious that my three kids were asleep in the car outside; it was freezing cold and there was not a hope in hell of finding another hotel at this time of the night.
I had booked the room at the Premier Inn in Bromsgrove South over a month ago. A moment earlier, the receptionist had asked me to complete a form stating my nationality and car registration number.
It was the former that had triggered this exchange.
I had written the word ‘Irish’.
I must admit that all sorts of thoughts began going through my head about why he could possibly want to see my passport.
I wasn’t actually taking out a tenancy that he needed to ask. I was simply renting a room for the night.
Perhaps he just didn’t like foreigners and felt emboldened by Brexit and the election of Donald Trump earlier in the month, and now believed that he too had become an extension of UK Border Control.
I feared that we were re-entering the era of the ‘No Dogs, No Blacks, No Irish’ signs.
I tried to maintain a degree of composure. I had been driving all day and had been looking forward to getting a good night’s sleep.
I glanced at his name badge.
I cleared my throat.
“Alex my friend, I am an Irish national, not a Pakistani”, I declared, assuming he had just mistaken my ethnicity for my nationality.
I couldn’t have been more wrong.
“Em Pakistan, yeah that’s fine as it’s in the Commonwealth. Are you a Pakistani national?”
“Alex, I am an Irish national. I do not need a visa to come to the UK. I can come and go as I wish and have been working here for the past 13 years.
Yet, I cannot get a room in the Premier Inn in Bromsgove.
But you’re telling me that if I was a Pakistani national, I would not need to show you any ID, despite the fact that I would need a visa to even get into Britain?”
“I don’t make up the rules, I am just doing my job”, he replied politely.
“But I have never been asked for my passport or nationality in any hotel in the UK that I have stayed in before, including the Premier Inn”.
“Sorry, those are the rules.”
“Right, my wife is in the car and she is British. Can she check in?”, I questioned desperate to get to my room at this point.
“Yes, she can as she is British … but I’m afraid you cannot.”
I then asked him if he would accept a UK driving license which he did and he took a note of my ID number.
I told him that I found the process completely unreasonable and that I would be making a complaint to the manager in the morning.
The ‘rules’ that Alex the Night Receptionist was so eager to enforce is an archaic piece of legislation known as The Immigration (Hotel Records) Order 1972 under which all ‘aliens’ over the age of 16 must provide the keeper of any hotel or such premises with their full name, nationality and passport or national identity card details.
They also must inform the keeper of the premises the details of their next destination (although Alex did not ask me for this).
The keeper of the hotel must retain this information for a period of at least 12 months.
So it seems Alex was being a good citizen and upholding the law when he refused to allow me to rent my room.
However, what he failed to understand was that like Commonwealth citizens, Irish nationals are not considered to be ‘aliens’ under the British Nationality Act and therefore are also exempt from this requirement.
This was unequivocally clarified seconds after I checked in when he emailed across my invoice which stated under ‘Passport’:
‘Nationality: Except ROI and Commonwealth”, ROI of course being the Republic of Ireland.
Looking back on it, I could have easily avoided all the hassle by simply writing the word ‘British’ in the nationality box or even saying I was a Pakistani national, after which I would not have been required to produce any identity documents.
So why is this law still on our books in this country?
And does it make sense to keep it?
It seems the government has listed it as one of thousands of burdensome regulations that it is trying to get rid of as part of its Red Tape Challenge.
In 2011, the travel association ABTA recommended repealing the Order, describing it as “an obsolete piece of legislation originally borne out of Cold War security concerns” that “no longer serves a purpose in the Twenty-First Century.”
Yet, five years on, it remains law with good citizens like my friend Alex ready to uphold it to protect our borders.
And who can blame him?
It appears that in recent years, West Midlands Police have made at least one arrest for a breach of this Order!
So if you are not a British, Irish or Commonwealth citizen and are thinking of checking into a hotel for the night, make sure you have your papers with you.
Remember: No Passport, No Room!
Have you ever had difficulty checking into a hotel in Britain because of your nationality? Please share your experiences using the comments box below.
Visadreams.com, Diary of an Immigration Lawyer, is a blog run by Fahad Ansari, the director and principal solicitor of Riverway Law, a niche UK immigration and nationality law practice based in London. If you would like any advice or assistance in relation to your immigration matter, please do not hesitate to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or submit your details here.