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Being at Anime Expo last weekend got me thinking about all the "trapped in another world" anime I watched as a kid: Inu Yasha, Fushigi Yuugi, Escaflowne, etc. The general plot of these is that a high school girl from "our" reality is magically transported to an alternate reality/time, where she's usually stuck and must perform some great task in order to return. Sometimes, when she does manage to come back, one or more of her new friends (or enemies) from the alternate reality come back with her.

In most of these stories, the alternate reality is a fantasy/medieval world with feudal kingdoms and very little bureacracy, so the girl from our world doesn't need any paperwork to go about her business. But the opposite case, when characters from the alternate world come to ours, seems like it would pose a problem for any extended stays. (All the anime I can remember dodged the question, either by having the stay be too short to matter, or by getting a god involved.) A character from an alternate reality who gets trapped in ours would quickly find themselves limited in the same ways as most illegal immigrants, unless they could find a way to somehow get the appropriate paperwork.

Would it be possible for someone from an alternate reality to successfully apply for and receive some kind of legal status in our world? If not, what would have to be different in our world for that to work?

I'm aware there are already processes for illegal immigrants to become legal residents; however, they're from our reality and have roots that extend prior to their arrival in the new country. I'm curious whether it would be possible to do the same thing as someone who literally did not exist in this world last week.

Clarifications:

  • The alternate-reality character does not have any kind of powerful, all-purpose magic/technology.
  • They're at least old enough to be a YA protagonist (so the equivalent of a human 13-year-old or higher).

  • They don't intend to reveal they're from an alternate reality (either they're aware that would go badly, or they have some other reason to keep it secret).

  • They're stuck in our world for an extended period of time, and can't just hop back and forth between their world and ours (and no one else can, either).
  • They may or may not speak the local language (it's handwaved in the various anime, but I've seen a book version where they don't, and it's much more interesting).

Bonus: Would it be possible if the person from another world is not human? Obviously someone who's visibly non-human, like a lizard person or a winged humanoid, would most likely be whisked away for study. But Inu Yasha can pass for human if you hide his ears and claws - would someone like him, who appears mostly human but isn't, be able to successfully gain legal status?

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    $\begingroup$ I'm not sure whether the LN goes into details, but Hataruku Maou-sama has several characters comes to modern day Japan from an alternate reality, who successfully register under false names and even have normal jobs. $\endgroup$ – nhahtdh Jul 10 '15 at 7:46
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    $\begingroup$ I'd just handwave this: anyone with sufficiently powerful magic/technology at their disposal to get into another world almost certainly has sufficiently powerful magic/technology at their disposal to procure high-quality forged identification. $\endgroup$ – Mason Wheeler Jul 10 '15 at 14:20
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    $\begingroup$ @MasonWheeler I disagree - in the examples I listed, the characters all switch worlds unwillingly/unintentionally. The transportation devices - a magic well for Inu Yasha, a magic book for Fushigi Yuugi - are all outside the characters' control. The characters themselves don't have anywhere near the magic/technology to create fake IDs. $\endgroup$ – thatgirldm Jul 10 '15 at 14:36
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    $\begingroup$ @MasonWheeler My point wasn't the nit of "procure" vs "create", it was the assumption that the character in question has any special powers that will allow them to do either. The Celestial Warriors in FY mostly have combat-related powers (Chichiri might've been able to do something, but he's the only one), and Inu Yasha is a half-demon, not a sorcerer. Even if the character comes from a world where magic exists, it's not safe to assume the character themselves has the kind of magic required to do what you suggest (or access to it or any advanced tech once they're in our world). $\endgroup$ – thatgirldm Jul 10 '15 at 14:44
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    $\begingroup$ @thatgirldm: forged identity may be obtained illegally, but they can be used in legal contexts, as long as the identity isn't being scrutinized too hard. If you exclude any illegal means to get a legal identity, then I think you can't possibly get a legal identity. Lying to immigration officers is illegal, I believe; pretending that you're amnesiac is not legal either if you're not actually amnesiac. $\endgroup$ – Lie Ryan Jul 12 '15 at 4:27

18 Answers 18

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Main Question: Imagine what happens when someone comes to the authorities and claims to be from another world, and applies for legal resident status.

  • One likely assumption would be that this is an undocumented alien (from Earth) who wants to obscure his/her origins to complicate deportation. Illegal immigrants often destroy their original documents to do that. While this tactic irritates the immigration authorities and makes clean papers much less likely, it also makes temporary refugee status more likely, perhaps with detention. How are you going to send them back?
  • Another assumption would be that this is a mentally ill person, presumably a citizen, who cannot recall any details of his/her identity. That could bring the alien into a hospital, paid for by the welfare system.
  • The idea that this person is really from another world is least likely to be accepted, at least until there are more precedents and perhaps evidence. Isotope ratios would be weird, but I don't believe that a mental hospital would order that kind of test to start with.

Bonus Question: An undocumented alien will come under more scrutiny compared to one who has all the paperwork, including many in-person interviews. There are procedures like having a medical expert estimate age to determine if the applicant is an adult or a juvenile (hence with more legal protections).

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    $\begingroup$ "Imagine what happens when someone comes to the authorities and claims to be from another world" I assumed he "obviously" meant he wasn't to state it officially. $\endgroup$ – o0'. Jul 10 '15 at 7:36
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    $\begingroup$ On second thoughts, possibly most of the answers so far (including mine) might be missing the point. A friend from Africa is going through the process of getting German residency. Since he doesn't seek refugee status, they're much more concerned with who he is and will be than where he is from. A central question is if he can earn a living, now and on the long term. The papers which matter most are university degrees, not birth certificates. $\endgroup$ – o.m. Jul 10 '15 at 16:29
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    $\begingroup$ I wonder what would happen if a visitor from another world, who had figured out enough of how this one works to realize that the lack of documentation will be a serious problem, walked into a mental hospital and claimed they had no memory of who they were and what they were doing that day? $\endgroup$ – LindaJeanne Jul 10 '15 at 16:40
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    $\begingroup$ @LindaJeanne Thats exactly what I was thought when I read the second bullet point in this answer. Probably the best way is to say that they have amnesia, though that would probably harder than I think it is from a bit of research $\endgroup$ – Necessity Jul 10 '15 at 19:32
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    $\begingroup$ Going with this answer because it covers the most likely options most directly, though there are a lot of other good answers below. $\endgroup$ – thatgirldm Jul 13 '15 at 4:37
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The fundamental flaw in any resident registration process, is this... the process of registering residents is numbingly boring. Tediously checking each driver license applicant for propery proof of identity is repetitious and unchallenging. The job is usually left to underpaid bureaocrats and therefore is vulnerable to corruption through bribery on many different levels.

If your trans-world traveller has some thing or some skill of sufficient value, it would be easy to convince such a government officer to issue legitimate papers for anyone, including a lizardman.

Also consider that a trans-world traveller might have skills of unlimited value. Magically restoring 20 years of youth would be an irresistable temptation to anyone over forty. Your scaley immigrant approaches an aging goverment worker in his home, turns the worker's 50 y.o. wife into a 20 y.o., then offers to do the same for the worker in return for a new set of identity papers. Problem solved!

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    $\begingroup$ Having to spend an additional 30 years with one's spouse may not always be an irresistible temptation :) $\endgroup$ – Marv Mills Jul 10 '15 at 12:01
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    $\begingroup$ @MarvMills - Get a divorce? I guess that G-man could issue new docs for himself and his wife too? $\endgroup$ – Malady Jul 10 '15 at 12:18
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    $\begingroup$ You don't even need to go that way if you have such skills. If you can unage someone 20 years you'll be a shoo-in for an O-1 visa (US Laws, I suspect similar things exist elsewhere.) $\endgroup$ – Loren Pechtel Jul 10 '15 at 22:41
  • $\begingroup$ @LorenPechtel as an O-1 applicant, I wish it was as simple as breaking a couple of laws of physics. Even though I do constantly joke on whether the ability to spit acid would qualify me as "an alien of extraordinary abilities". $\endgroup$ – Mike L. Sep 20 '15 at 13:39
  • $\begingroup$ @MikeL Just have your lawyer do it. De-age people and you've got a lot of cash lying around. Or be a major money-making musical star (Justin Bieber) $\endgroup$ – user3082 Sep 22 '15 at 21:27
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  • Actual humans from this world have been known to operate under false identities, for example criminals on the run. So it's certainly possible to appear legal, but getting fake IDs firstly requires making a contact that can provide it, and secondly it requires not testing the ID beyond the level of scrutiny it can survive. So your fake driver's license might fool barstaff, but most likely wouldn't survive the inevitable computerised ID check should you be arrested. Applying for a job at the FBI using a fake ID bought from some shady guy you met in a crack den is Right Out. For some purposes all you need is the document and so a fake will do, but for many other purposes the document is just used to look you up in "the system", so if you aren't in the system you lose. Witness protection schemes can legally put a false identity in the system, at least to an extent, so it's possible with the right connections.

  • I don't know about Japan, but in the UK it's possible to operate without papers provided that you have a source of cash and a place to stay, or else you do without those things (live on the streets). There are lots of things you do normally need ID for -- to get credit, open a bank account, rent or buy a house, to get non-emergency NHS treatment. But a typical day can pass without actually needing to show any ID to anyone if you don't want to and plan accordingly

  • Don't expect a credit card or a mobile phone contract (someone could buy a prepay phone and hand it to you, of course). Don't expect to buy alcohol if you look young, or to get any employment other than illegal (because untaxed) casual labour for cash. Staple of the genre, they would not be able to just show up at a school claiming to be "new" and attend classes!

There's no law in the UK that says you have to use the name you were born with, or a name you legally registered as a change, it's just inconvenient not to. Countries in which you must use your legal identity, and must show papers frequently, of course would be harder. But in any country where there are wanted criminals (which I suspect means in every country) it must be physically possible to go about without showing your real ID, at least for a while.

It'd certainly be interesting to see what happened to someone who apparently, according to their accent and general knowledge, comes from (an alternate version of) the UK, who was picked up by the UK authorities for some reason, and simply could not be conclusively identified. They couldn't be deported, because there's no basis to choose anywhere else to send them. I suspect that either they'd be cut loose (if they'd done nothing really wrong), or else they'd be held in contempt of court for refusing to identify themselves and perhaps detained indefinitely, or else they'd be considered amnesiac, given psychiatric treatment which would conclude they're not dangerous to themselves or others, and then given some support for a new identity starting from the point they were found.

Realistically speaking, there's no precedent for dealing with someone from another world, so being presumed amnesiac with false memories might be the best bet to become legitimately legal. Failing that, if you tell the whole truth and have some kind of supporting evidence then who knows what the authorities would do -- it's unprecedented -- but it's at least plausible that they'd grant citizenship. More likely, though, is that this alternative world would be immediately considered a potential serious military/security threat and you'd be the only available information about it, so you'd be held and closely observed. But supposing that didn't happen (donné of the plot), you could be given papers and let go. If that's what the government chose to do for some reason, there's nothing to stop them. Life for the visitor from that point wouldn't be straightforward since they wouldn't have history "in the system" -- no academic qualifications, no credit history, no birth certificate. But they wouldn't be breaking any laws, so supposing their extraordinary case wasn't publicised, they could probably set about their plot-ordained purpose in a reasonable amount of peace.

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  • $\begingroup$ "There are lots of things you do normally need ID for -- [...] rent or buy a house, [...] But a typical day can pass without actually needing to show any ID to anyone" does your typical day not include dining and sleeping at your house? $\endgroup$ – o0'. Jul 10 '15 at 15:38
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    $\begingroup$ @Lohoris: sure, my day does, but if my friend from an alternate universe sleeps on my sofa then he doesn't need to own a house at all, and therefore (unlike me) he doesn't need to have ever shown ID to the land registry at time of purchase. This is why I said that the big things you need to get out of the way are a source of cash and a place to stay. It's not necessary to show ID, or ownership documents, on a daily basis just to walk in and out of my house. $\endgroup$ – Steve Jessop Jul 10 '15 at 15:55
  • $\begingroup$ For several years now, I didn't have to show my ID unless I somehow caused that situation -- renting a flat, taking a plane, opening a bank account. I could have avoided all those situations by living with a roommate who signs the papers, by riding in a car driven by some friend, etc. The key is that this would greatly inconvenience me. $\endgroup$ – o.m. Jul 10 '15 at 16:04
  • $\begingroup$ @o.m.: exactly. For the sake of this fiction being interesting, I hope that not having a flat in their own name isn't the worst of the inconveniences this visitor faces and overcomes! $\endgroup$ – Steve Jessop Jul 10 '15 at 16:07
  • $\begingroup$ Second this, the US is the same way. There's no demand for ID other than for things you initiate and the two critical ones are residence and money. Prepaid phones don't require ID and at least back when I was in college nobody asked for ID when renting a room in a house. (Not an apartment!) I also don't think ID would be required to purchase a house outright but you might have problems with paying for it. $\endgroup$ – Loren Pechtel Jul 10 '15 at 22:33
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If they're human and have accents which will fit in and appear respectable then there's the Benjaman Kyle option.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Benjaman_Kyle

Get hurt, claim total memory loss or talk about weird fantasy world and probably end up in a mental hospital temporarily until they figure out you're not a danger to others and kick you out to make a bed available.

It may or may not get you the necessary paperwork "sort of" legally/officially but it's one way of avoiding being hunted as an illegal.

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I imagine the best bet for becoming "legal" would be to reach out to some sort of church/organization dedicated to helping the homeless or other refugees. /they would likely be more sympathetic and understanding to the "I lost everything at some undisclosed point in the past" explanation than a government employee. There are a few avenues you can take with this:

  • The organization accepts them as a refugee or whatever and provides for them while they assists them in establishing some kind of legitimacy. Your protagonist that is from this plane of existence volunteers to put them up at their house and "sponsor" them. As long as they aren't trying to get a credit card or anything major you can sort of ignore it from then on. Even minor encounters with police can be explained by this. Most local police would be familiar with organizations such as this and might accept the explanation "Oh you're one of those Our Lady of Plot Convenience fellas" and write them off.

  • Introduce an ancillary character at such an organization that is especially helpful. Maybe they think the off worlder/alien/(?) is handsome/beautiful or interesting and uses their contacts at the local government ID providing office, since this is the sort of thing they do for work, to expedite the ID procuring process. This is sort of a hand wave as there are official procedures and requirements and what not but it's a story and have all the minutia of obtaining a new ID down to a T isn't high on the list of priorities.

  • Hand wave it away the same way they did on 'Sleepy Hollow'. Ichabod Crane comes back from the past and befriends a present day police officer. They explain him as a visiting professor from England. He is granted legitimacy via hanging out with a cop. Whenever they get in a pickle she flashes her badge and says "He's with me." The same can be done for any transdimensional character, have the protagonists uncle/brother/father/sister/mother/good friend be some kind of police officer or other official or other respected public figure and use the "I'm with him" excuse. This should work for most interesting story telling situations. No one reads a story about a time traveling wizard form another dimension to watch them fill out loan applications.

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Maybe claim to be from a third world country and therefore not have legal documents. Claim to come from a small village or something?

In a desperate situation you could say you were born and raised as a slave slash had been born into human trafficking. If you could guilt people enough they would accept your story. Could go to police and say you escaped after living your life as a slave. They could prob get you papers.

Non humanoid... I think the government would just whisk them away. People would be frightened of the unknown. I mean we are afraid of our own kind that have deformities so I dont think it would go over very well for the non humanoid.

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    $\begingroup$ When you arrive from a third world country without papers you are put through a fairly rigorous interview. The information you provide will be investigated and if you claim to be the son of <some person> from <some village> in <some district>. Your application is going to be denied when it's discovered that the district does not exits, or that the village does not exist or that the person does not exist or that the person does not have a child with the name you have given for yourself. $\endgroup$ – Taemyr Jul 10 '15 at 10:25
  • $\begingroup$ I've thought about these, but I'd imagine any claims of being a slave/sex worker would need to be verified by a thorough physical/psychological examination. Unless the alien in question was already badly abused and malnourished before arriving here, the claims are unlikely to stand up to scrutiny. E.g., Tamahome from FY and Inu Yasha are both extremely physically fit, healthy, confident young men - no one who regularly works with actual human trafficking victims is going to believe they were imprisoned against their will. $\endgroup$ – thatgirldm Jul 10 '15 at 13:31
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It's also important how old your traveler from the other world is. If he/she would arrive as a child, it would probably make it easier. If a child claimed to have lost his parents in some kind of tragical accident or something, or if it claimed not to be able to remember what happend, it wouldn't go straight to the mental hospital but rather get put into an orphanage. I don't know how easy it is for orphan kids with unknown roots to get identity papers. But probably they do sooner or later. At least they won't be made responsible for having no roots or having forgotten parts of their past. The problem with this is, your fantasy character has to be either able to claim to be a kid by some kind of magic, or actually be one, which doesn't apply to most.

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The canonical way to do this in the UK was the mechanism popularized by The Day of the Jackal - find someone who died very young but would otherwise be the about same age as you, obtain a copy of their birth certificate, and work from there. Assuming no-one ever realises "you" died aged three, it's unlikely to ever be uncovered.

Despite being popularised by a well-known novel in 1971, this method remained effective until 2007, when the loophole was finally closed in 2007 by incorporating a check against the deaths register. However, I am sure it would still work in some countries...

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  • $\begingroup$ Just a note, living people are routinely declared dead in the US. Happens all the time. Typos and such. I suspect no other data registry is more accurate. But it certainly makes it a lot more difficult to find someone who's not been declared dead. Would have to be someone young as well. Jobs, schooling, etc need to all be explained away. $\endgroup$ – user3082 Sep 22 '15 at 21:44
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In Australia, the government has to deal not only with people coming from outside the country without papers, but also people living within the country who've never had paperwork. From the "100 point" checklist:

Special Category 4 – Aboriginal person or Torres Strait Islander resident in a remote area/community

The applicant will meet the 100-point requirement if the applicant is an Aboriginal person or Torres Strait Islander resident in a remote area/community, and the identity of the applicant is verified by two persons recognised as 'Community Leaders' of the community to which the applicant belongs.

This'd depend on the racial appearance of the person, and having two trusted people being prepared to lie for you.

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    $\begingroup$ Greg Egan wrote a SF alegory on the problems with Australia's refugee system (of which he's also an activist) by writing of trans-dimentional travellers. $\endgroup$ – JDługosz Jul 12 '15 at 7:55
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Creating a new identity from scratch in a moderately advanced country is probably not very easy. The person would have to present all kinds of paperwork, such as birth and school certificates - and those would have to correspond to existing data in the government files. They would also have to deal with questions like "why haven't you paid your taxes for ten years?" and their consequences.

On the other hand, an extra-dinensional person might have better luck doing this more gradually, if they had time in their hands. It is quite possible that a person appearing in some third world country would have an easier time acquiring documentation, especially if there was additional chaos involved, like a recent war or natural disaster. If that person specifically needed to be elsewhere, they would just have to figure out a way to migrate to another country afterwards - although they might have a degree of difficulty procuring a visa.

Of course, everything is also dependent on what that person would want to do once there. If one wants to get a job, for example, the paperwork requirements are often significantly more extensive than what they need to just enter the country.

Bonus question answer: It would depend on your definition of "not human". In most (all?) countries there are specific requirements when registering the biometric signatures for identity documents. For example, in passport photographs the facial features should not be covered by hair, let alone by glasses/hats/etc. While no-one is (probably) going to ask a person to remove their clothes and disfigurements like burns or missing body parts would remain uncommented, a person with pointed ears or claws in his fingers would certainly be asked some very pointed questions.

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  • $\begingroup$ In most jurisdictions, it isn't illegal to have 'deformities'. $\endgroup$ – Monty Wild Feb 2 '16 at 23:20
  • $\begingroup$ "Deformities"? Of course those wouldn't be illegal. But having biological impossibilities for a human? They'd raise red flags at the least. $\endgroup$ – Sora Tamashii Oct 27 '18 at 17:02
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Sometimes the government simply produces papers without red tape. In a dictatorship (or a benign monarchy) the head of state might find it in his interest. I recall a show where in the pilot a rich dude on the run paid cash to be admitted, and the dictator took his payment and stamped his passport and issued needed permits, then referred him to a relative to sell him a mansion.

A large government like the US has witness protection and probably more clandestine versions, where official real ID is produced.

So a being from another universe could somehow make contact and convince the government to let him stay, and live among them. If he had some choice of which country to appear to, it could be easy, both by shopping for the approachability/concentrated-authority, and which nation is interested in what he has to offer.

As for the idea of being from an undeveloped (or small non-bueucratic state), why not simply go there, first? Live among insolar islanders for a while, and then legitimately be from there if you want to move to a first-world country.

Much can be made of any unique nature of the visitor. If he can swim like a mermaid and hold his breath for 20 minutes, a remote island of sponge divers and pearl divers would be a natural fit.

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Records occasionally get destroyed in accidents. You could claim you were from that area and get new documents that couldn't be checked. Another dodge I heard was to get birth certificates from people who died young in the same year you were born, and use them to request new documents.

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Depending on how well they know this world, or how closely their world corresponds to our own, they would recognize that criminal organizations exist for this very reason. With a close enough correspondence between the worlds, the alien might even be able to do much of the work themselves.

Criminal organizations and terrorists create and circulate false documents all the time. A booming industry also exists for stealing the existing identities of people (identity theft), so with enough cash or ingenuity, the being from the alternate world could simply assume one or more identities and carry on that way. This would be a criminal lifestyle (opening up credit cards, draining existing bank accounts and so on), but as people who have become victims of identity theft know, it is exceedingly difficult to find and stop the "other" you, and the process of clearing your identity takes a prolonged period of time as the various authorities, bank security departments and so on investigate. While this is going on, the alien discovers the credit card was cancelled and simply pays cash and disposes of the documents, reaching into the pocket (marsupial pouch?) and taking out a new set of identities.

A "clean" identity is much better, since you are not likely to discover the credit card is suddenly cancelled and so on, but is also much harder to achieve in much of the world and would take more time and resources to create. This ins't to say it is impossible, the former USSR had an entire training town devoted to training "illegals" to gain the proper habits to pass as American citizens (everything from learning American accents and slang speech to knowing cultural trivia like TV shows and sports team records). Obviously a single alien stranded in this reality might not be able to go to that extent, but if there is a "corridor" where cross diminutional traffic can take place, it might be worthwhile for authorities on one (or even both) ends to train their people to live and work in the other dimension, either for monitoring and espionage or even trade.

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You couldn't really be 'legal' because all the methods to 'have papers' need inconvenient things like proof of birth, nationality etc. You don't have these things, so you can't do it.

But it's easier than you might think to acquire fake documentation. The classic trick is to request a copy of a birth certificate from someone in the graveyard born around the right date. Not many countries properly 'close the loop' and keep track of births and deaths.

But failing that, hop on tor, have a rummage through what's dramatically called the "dark web". It's not, it's just a bunch of anonymised websites that sell all sorts of things, and ship them discreetly in the post. Amongst these are fake and stolen passports.

http://www.ibtimes.com/pulse/tour-deep-web-illegal-marketplaces-book-clubs-everything-between-1729404

So I would suggest what you want to do is acquire a passport for a country that you've got visa waivers for. So like the UK/US relationship, or Europe/schengen.

You could probably 'bribe' your way to documents - either properly illegally, or by 'influence' through the legal/political system. The latter is more legal, but probably more expensive.

Travel in on an international passport, start the process of applying for naturalisation and citizenship. This might be made easier by getting married - either as a love interest, or to a willing conspirator.

https://www.gov.uk/becoming-a-british-citizen/if-your-spouse-is-a-british-citizen

https://www.gov.uk/eea-registration-certificate

There are some tests you'll never pass - you won't be getting a security clearance - but for most purposes, naturalised foreigner is 'pretty good'.

There's also the possibility of 'being' an asylum seeker. Claim to be from somewhere unpleasant, with no papers. This isn't really as easy as it sounds though, as a lot of countries are just not keen in immigrants, so you'd have to jump through a lot of hoops.

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If you're literally asking whether they can legally get paperwork to prove they're legal, then no, pretty much by definition. However, if all you want is for them to get enough paperwork to live day-to-day, I'd have to say the answer is indisputably yes, because there are anywhere from 7 to 30 million undocumented aliens in the US at the current time (depending on whose estimate you believe), who are doing just that.

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    $\begingroup$ There are already ways in our world for various types of people who don't have legal paperwork - some types of illegal immigrants, refugees, mentally ill people, etc - to obtain paperwork providing them some form of legitimacy (not necessarily full citizenship, but some kind of resident alien or similar status). What I'm trying to figure out is whether any of those would work for a (possibly non-human) character from another world. $\endgroup$ – thatgirldm Jul 11 '15 at 6:22
  • $\begingroup$ @thatgirldm: So assuming your character from another world looks outwardly human, what exactly is the difference? The point is that literally millions of people are doing it, so obviously it's possible. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Jul 11 '15 at 17:14
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    $\begingroup$ It's that I don't know what kinds of physical exams would be involved (if any) and what they're looking for. I also don't know how the laws work in various countries, and I'm not just looking for a yes/no "can they do it", I'm also looking for what the specific blockers are and what would need to be different for it to be possible. $\endgroup$ – thatgirldm Jul 11 '15 at 17:38
  • $\begingroup$ @thatgirldm: I suppose that depends on what country your alien happens to pop up in. In the US, you can't become legal, barring some act of Congress that grants an amnesty to illegal immigrants who meet certain qualifications. The problem is that any legal immigration status basically requires that you apply from outside the country. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Jul 12 '15 at 5:41
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You can serve in the French Foreign Legion under an assumed name for several years and receive documents under that name when you complete your service. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/france/3546207/The-French-Foreign-Legion-the-last-option-for-those-desperate-to-escape-the-UK.html

Huh, seems like you'd have to buy a Hawaiian birth certificate first. http://en.legion-recrute.com/mdl/info_seul.php?id=6&idA=59&block=20&idA_SM=0&titre=administrative-requirements

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  • $\begingroup$ The first article says the the legion now makes everyone go through a full background check... $\endgroup$ – bowlturner Sep 20 '15 at 1:56
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Another class of people your alien can emulate are fugitives from justice -- every year or so there is a story in the news of the model citizen whose spouse and children are shocked when some slip reveals them to have walked away from a low-security prison 30 or 40 years ago.

Most of the recent stories found in a cursory web search say the person swiped the identity of someone who died as a child, as suggested in other answers. (The newspaper stories, of course, only talk about the people who got caught.) A few examples:

https://people.com/crime/florida-man-false-identity-car-crash/

A book a few years ago used a variation, where person A helped person B emigrate to another country and live as a duplicate of person A.

There is certainly a thriving market in fake Social Security numbers in the US, again, typically purchasing the identity of someone who died young.

It doesn't even need to be strictly illegal -- I've read SF stories set in cultures where people faced with unbearable situations could walk away and start a new life tabula rasa in a new community.

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  • $\begingroup$ It's always Florida-Man. Always. He's not the superhero we wanted, but he's the superhero we needed. $\endgroup$ – Sora Tamashii Oct 27 '18 at 17:10
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Potential solutions:

  • Make the visitor's illegality part of the plot. They'll be on the run from the authorities the whole time...
  • Have them aquire 'fake' papers somehow. e.g. someone's father works for the government, someone's mentor used to be into identity theft.
  • Have the visitor's borrow a legitimate identity. e.g. "So, this is your cousin, Joey? Sure I can give him a job; it is the least I can do considering how much your father did for me." You can build a case for legitimacy based on personal trust rather than a lost paper trail. "All your papers lost in a fire? That's too bad. But I know your family. Have a library card."
  • The off-worlders could have "powers" that enable them to stay. e.g. Jedi mind trick, psychic paper, invisibility, skill at forgery.
  • Lampshade the plot hole. "Isn't it amazing that you havn't been caught!" and ignore the problem.
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    $\begingroup$ These suggestions get around the problem of missing papers, but my question is about whether and how someone could get papers - not what they could do to avoid needing them. $\endgroup$ – thatgirldm Jul 10 '15 at 16:08
  • $\begingroup$ Fake papers are papers, even if they aren't legitimate ones. But if that approach doesn't meet your needs, then that's fine. But I'm reluctant to delete the answer in case it helps someone else. $\endgroup$ – Kramii Jul 13 '15 at 9:09
  • $\begingroup$ You're right that fake papers are papers, but most of your suggestions don't answer my question. (FWIW, I'm not the one who downvoted you; I made my first comment so you'd know why I wasn't upvoting.) I agree that you shouldn't delete the answer, though - if someone does want to dodge the issue entirely, these are good ideas. $\endgroup$ – thatgirldm Jul 13 '15 at 15:41

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