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one designers experience with US customs and immigration
February 23, 2004 8:04 AM   Subscribe

one web designers experience with US customs and immigration
joost gets a taste of a federal detention center.via newstoday
posted by specialk420 (43 comments total)

 
Sticking the guy in a detention center was over the top. I do agree that ignorance of the law is no excuse though. The onus is on you to make sure that you've got the paperwork in order. When I first moved to the U.S. I was first denied access. I didn't have a piece of paper saying what my salary was. I tried to make sure all the i's were dotted and t's crossed but I missed that part. I just got sent back across the ambassador bridge and came back in two days (with my j's dotted in the form of a FAX with my salary).

They were still dicks (That's not very much money for that position - Bullshit, it's in the 93rd percentile (though worded more diplomatically))
but I got across. That was 1997, 2004 would result in much more scrutiny.
posted by substrate at 8:27 AM on February 23, 2004


I explained him i didn't know about these laws, and that the companies that got me over never mentioned anything about this to me, also on entry with the other two times i had to explain my business and purpose and was granted access without any troubles.... "Ignorance is of no excuse to the law" he replied

So the real problem is that he worked in the US before without a Visa... and the point of this story is ? I feel bad for the things he had to go through, but doesn't this happen on a regular basis ?
posted by swordfishtrombones at 8:29 AM on February 23, 2004


There's all sort of examples of over zealous immigration agents recently.Even some flight attendants have been "turned around" for having the "wrong " visa.
posted by johnny7 at 8:49 AM on February 23, 2004


Several things:

but doesn't this happen on a regular basis?

There is definitely a background buzz about things like this happening more often than they should. I know several stories which are actualy a lot worse (including passengers IN TRANSIT being stopped by U.S. inmigration - which is arguably off-limits since the person is not entering the country in the first place.)

And yes, they were over the top: spending time in a real prison for not having the correct papers? WTF?

Having said that, "I didn't know" isn't going to get you anywhere with a cop; much less with an immigration one; and a lot less with an american one on a power trip.

------------------------------------------------------------

For comparison:

You will get the same treatment upon arriving at Schiphol airport in Amsterdam ...

... if you carry up to 3 kilos (6 pounds) of cocaine with you - and are caught with it, obviously. Over 3 kilos will get you prison time, but the government has introduced a program under which less than 3 kilos gets you sent right back home ... and they make sure that all the airlines add your name to their NO-FLY list. Good luck catching another plane ever after that.

That said, the Dutch government has also decided not to be nice to illegal immigrants anymore ... which I believe what this guy technically was.
posted by magullo at 8:51 AM on February 23, 2004


I'm not rolling in sympathy here. Is there any country on Earth that lets foreign nationals work there without a real visa? Did he read the visa waiver form, which when I last read it specifically mentioned that it's not appropriate for work situations?

They didn't mistreat him, they only detained him overnight - probably until the next available flight out. What else were they going to do with him if they didn't send him to detention? Leave him locked in some office at the airport?
posted by jacquilynne at 8:52 AM on February 23, 2004


it sounded like joost with his considerable creative talents and pontential to generate tax dollars for the debt laden US government was considering moving to seattle, my guess is that is considerably less likely now.

to steal a prase from josh marshall: "drip, drip, drip".
posted by specialk420 at 9:38 AM on February 23, 2004


I'd say if anything, the moral of the story is "US Immigration is doing what they always promised they did."

No work VISA, no work. Admit you've broken the rules before, no trust. Bye-bye.

If they released him, he could work anyway, show up to be deported and go home.
If they let him in with a tourist visa, same problem, and he's admitted he's broken that rule.

The typical way of dealing with this is to always lie. Travel on a tourist visa, then deal with getting paid when you get home. Declare the income in the Netherlands, nobody is the wiser.

Joost is boned himself when he admitted he'd used a tourist visa to work in the past. Now there's probably a flag on him saying "Works on tourist visa's, business visa's only from now on."
posted by Leonard at 9:59 AM on February 23, 2004


it sounded like joost with his considerable creative talents and pontential to generate tax dollars for the debt laden US government was considering moving to seattle

Well, not to say anything about Joost, who I know next to nothing about, but Seattle (and the US generally) needs more Web designers like it needs a roto-rooter up the anal passage. Maybe he is so fantastically good that he's worth importing rather than hiring local talent at wages slightly above Starbucks', but judging by his site (hover strikethroughs? wtf?), maybe not.
posted by kindall at 10:11 AM on February 23, 2004


kindall... perhaps you should dig a little deeper wiseguy.
posted by specialk420 at 10:14 AM on February 23, 2004


link
posted by specialk420 at 10:17 AM on February 23, 2004


Jeez, I was expecting a crazy story of overpowering officials throwing the guy in the slammer for nothing, but frankly it looks like he deserved his treatment.

He didn't bother to understand the immigration laws in the US. He wasn't paid much attention the first two visits and then on the third an INS agent was doing his job. The guy broke the rules twice previously, pleaded ignorance, then was sent home. Maybe the detention with common criminals was a bit much, but you couldn't really set him free to his hotel and expect him not to do any paid work. The INS doesn't have its own detention centers either.

Considering what he'd done previously and what transpired it doesn't sound like the INS did much wrong here. It's certainly unfortunate, but understandable.
posted by mathowie at 10:19 AM on February 23, 2004


"its a hard lesson learned... for all ya all getting to work on a freelance project in the US make sure you have the right papers! "

"yah i might prolly laugh about it myself in the future...
i should be really happy i got out so fast, others that were there been waiting for months on a return flight :/ "


- renascent
posted by specialk420 at 10:42 AM on February 23, 2004


The problem that this story and many others like it show is not that the law is wrong, but that the bureacracy is nearly impossible to navigate. "Ignorance of the law is no excuse" I can agree with, but at the same time, we have a responsibility to ensure that it is possible for humans to actually understand the law. US immigration policy is so overlarded with complication and paperwork that it's basically impossible for anyone to get all the details right, let alone the people the system is primarily intended to serve, who will likely not have English as a primary language and will not have intimite familiarity with the US legal system.

If we want secure immigration policies, the immigration system as a whole needs a reboot. Otherwise it will remain a haphazard matter of who happens to be on duty and which policies they understand that day.
posted by rusty at 10:52 AM on February 23, 2004


It strikes me that for a country that prides itself (generally, at least) on its "innocent until proven guilty" standards, that we would detain suspected criminals in the same way as convicted criminals.

Shouldn't there be a separate system for those accused or, in this case, waiting for a flight home because of a visa issue? If the presumption of innocence is important as human rights issue, shouldn't the detention of those presumed innocent reflect that?
posted by VulcanMike at 10:57 AM on February 23, 2004


If the presumption of innocence is important as human rights issue, shouldn't the detention of those presumed innocent reflect that?

Immigration has never worked that way. Entry into any country is a privilege, not a right.

For someone who's been here a number of times before, the author seems surprisingly naive to me. Yes, US Immigration can be a minefield, but I thought it was common knowledge that when you enter on a visa waiver, you may be asked to show a return ticket. Similarly, if you're coming in on business, you *always* tell them you're here for meetings.

Like it or not, dealing with immigration requires an understanding of the basic protocol and you break that at your peril. It's analogous to the "have your bags always been in your sight" question. If you answer, "well, they were in the trunk of the taxi for a while and I wasn't looking at them when I was in the bathroom for a minute", it may be true, but you're breaking the protocol. Once you move the conversation off the normal path, they're obligated to treat you differently, and neither they nor you really want that.
posted by Armitage Shanks at 11:15 AM on February 23, 2004


US immigration policy is so overlarded with complication and paperwork that it's basically impossible for anyone to get all the details right

This wasn't someone who tried to get the details right but failed. That you need a work visa to work is not rocket science.

Which isn't to say that INS / ICE / BCIS aren't very fucked up, 'cuz they are.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:31 AM on February 23, 2004


"Ignorance of the law is no excuse" I can agree with, but at the same time, we have a responsibility to ensure that it is possible for humans to actually understand the law.

Extremely well-put.
posted by trharlan at 11:48 AM on February 23, 2004


I am surprised at the guy's naivete. When I was 21 and planning on working abroad, I learned right quick (and without much effort, and without the benefit of the Internet) what the visa requirements were. Which is not to say I didn't bend them a little...

My experience as an American working in Japan was that the officials would cut you a little slack if you were A) caucasian and B) making a reasonable effort to play by the rules. This guys was mistaken in his understanding, but obviously not malicious. I think he deserved a talking-to, not a night in the slammer and a trip home.
posted by adamrice at 11:50 AM on February 23, 2004


Having worked in the Netherlands as an American citizen, I can say that the Dutch immigration people would have done something quite similiar. I can't speak to where you would be held until the next flight out...but you'd be on the next return flight home, were conditions the same.

Countries have visa laws for a reason...and ignorance of those laws is no excuse.
posted by dejah420 at 12:05 PM on February 23, 2004


Seattle (and the US generally) needs more Web designers like it needs a roto-rooter up the anal passage.

A-men.

That Joost is a great designer with "pontential[sic] to generate tax dollars for the debt laden US government" is a diversionary & lazy way to politicize the arguement. I could name 6 friends off the top of my head in the Seattle area alone who are legal citizens, talented, motivated and in need of design work. Why dole it out to someone who doesn't even seem to understand his VISA specs, and who complains about his resulting arrest, to boot?! Talk about a non-story.
posted by dhoyt at 12:06 PM on February 23, 2004


I'm confused. Is the point of this post that the INS did a fantastic job? Because that's the impression I get.
posted by y6y6y6 at 12:09 PM on February 23, 2004


So he doesn't perform his due dilligence, and admits to previously (and currently) entering a foreign country with the wrong visa. (tourist visa, not a work visa). They put him in a holding cell for a night and then ship him back. In the case of the individual, I think it is extreme. But at a governmental level, it is probably good policy. If you're not enforcing your visa program correctly, you might as well not have one.

They sound like your company's computer guy, though. They don't think not knowing anything is cute. Ignorance isn't anything to be proud of. But they're also an ass, while they're at it. But we need 'em.
posted by jmccorm at 12:12 PM on February 23, 2004


ahh dhoyt ...

i daresay if joost was living and working in seattle it would be good for everyone (your "talented and motivated" friends included) ... here the washington monthly link again.

im surprised at the frothing "stupid foreigner" comments in this thread, anyone who has actually done creative development at joost's level knows that projects aren't bound by state/country borders - there is a reason whomever had paid him to visit/work (whatever that means exactly) in the past, hired the guy for his unparalleled talent, not to send work overseas to save a few pennies ...
posted by specialk420 at 12:17 PM on February 23, 2004


Well, then, specialk420, we're all surprised, since I'm surprised you think this story was even worth posting... That the guy has a decent grasp of some animation software is no excuse for the blatant stupidity of (1) entering any foreign country without a return ticket in hand and (2) setting off customs agents' internal alarms for a five hundred yard radius by saying he was "here to work" without even holding a fucking visa... The only time I feel anything other than contempt for his stupidity is when I ponder, with at least a touch of empathy, how this could have gone had the INS guy not been having a relatively pleasant day...
posted by JollyWanker at 1:20 PM on February 23, 2004


Yeah, those "frothing, stupid foreigner" comments were really getting out of control in this thread, specialk. Good call.
posted by dhoyt at 1:34 PM on February 23, 2004


mm, seems to me like the INS did the right thing, albeit heavy-handedly.

as jmccorn said "If you're not enforcing your visa program correctly, you might as well not have one."

anyway, he was unlucky, but he wasn't up to speed on visa requirements and he should probably have known better.
posted by knapah at 1:58 PM on February 23, 2004


kindall... perhaps you should dig a little deeper wiseguy.

Yeah, I noticed later that the rest of his site was somewhat nicer. Still, the blog/forum part is uuuuuuuuglee.
posted by kindall at 2:17 PM on February 23, 2004


US immigration policy is so overlarded with complication and paperwork that it's basically impossible for anyone to get all the details right [...]

Can't agree more, but the laws won't change for the better any time soon. The reason is that the people being subjected to the byzantine immigration policies aren't allowed to vote.
posted by Triplanetary at 4:56 PM on February 23, 2004


As others have noted, this story arc isn't confined to the US. I had an acquaintance who had pretty much the same thing happen to him entering the UK. . .
posted by donovan at 5:06 PM on February 23, 2004


im surprised at the frothing "stupid foreigner" comments in this thread, anyone who has actually done creative development at joost's level knows that projects aren't bound by state/country borders - there is a reason whomever had paid him to visit/work (whatever that means exactly) in the past, hired the guy for his unparalleled talent.

As someone who has worked on projects that "aren't bound by state/country borders," I can say that it's extremely unprofessional not to understand how to cross those borders.

In any case, what kind of policy change would you recommend, exactly? Do web designers get a special pass?
posted by me & my monkey at 5:43 PM on February 23, 2004


Yeah, dry eyes here. I've been in roughly analogous positions vis a vis working as an information architect in Japan, and how long do you think I'd have lasted there without a proper visa and arrangements for return travel? Let the chorus begin: NEXT FLIGHT OUT. (I doubt the accomodations would have been any more pleasant, either.)

Joost may be a nice enough guy, but it's unprofessional, bottom line. specialk420, your efforts on his behalf seem like special pleading, and your sympathy just a little misplaced.
posted by adamgreenfield at 6:57 PM on February 23, 2004


Me, I would have just said "I'm here for business meetings" and forgotten to mention that there might be some freelance work involved.

Or I would have used a high bandwidth connection to work on a machine located in the Netherlands.

Or something equally illegal, I suppose.
posted by namespan at 8:14 PM on February 23, 2004


Well it sounded like a nightmare. I'm amazed at his naivety though. Its universally known that the US customs and immigration officers you have to deal with upon arrival in the US are the rudest assholes on earth. Why anyone would antagonize this group of people in this day and age is beyond me. Just tell them what they want to hear and be on your way.

I dread any trip that has me passing through a US airport.
posted by cmacleod at 8:38 PM on February 23, 2004


As an aside, does anyone know what Fluke song plays under that Nike Verona ad?
posted by mmcg at 8:46 PM on February 23, 2004


special pleading, and your sympathy just a little misplaced

i don't think joost asked for sympathy - nor did i for him.

the post was simply a reminder of how communist-bloc like fortress america has become ... where one needs to remember to lie about the most infintesmal details of ones comings and goings while financiers of terrorism (bandar bush's wife for one), or capitans of industry who shelter all their income off-shore can come and go as they please ...

i'm reminded of the petty denial of entry for ibrahim ferrer to attend the grammy's this year.
posted by specialk420 at 8:47 PM on February 23, 2004


Nah, not much sympathy here. Because if you make a big hoo-hah about a bloke who's basically setting off the immigration alert buzzer with every single action and statement, then it weakens your just outrage against, say, the spouses of those who were working on temporary visas in the World Trade Center, who then found themselves facing deportation, even though a fair few had kids who were born in the US.

A friend, though, nearly got himself sent back from the US on the next plane because an immigration person decided that flying in for a weekend with a bunch of travel journalists (all at the expense of a ski resort that wanted to show off its new hotel to the press) meant that he needed the same kind of full-on journalist visa that's required of, say, the BBC staff living in Washington DC. Needless to say, that gets written up, and the American sponsors/advertisers are not impressed.

Freelance work, though, is such a fluid thing these days when it comes to 'location'. You do a job in one country for a company that's based in another country and the money comes through a subsidiary or contractor in a third country. No wonder accountants are happy.
posted by riviera at 9:29 PM on February 23, 2004


specialk: but enforcement of work visas is nothing new. People have been getting kicked out for working on non-work visas for eons. You don't need to remember to lie to the customs/immigration inspectors (which isn't real smart anyhow, since on the off chance you're caught out, Bad Things happen). You just have to get a work visa, of all things, to work in the US.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:20 PM on February 23, 2004


The really funny thing about this is the way hairs are split about "work" vs. "meeting". My partner flew to the States last month for a meeting, but said at immigration it was "business". Mind, he's really clever about the rules (Fullbright scholar in US for grad school) and had recently replaced his passport to be up to the latest requirement. The problem revolved around semantics of "business" vs. "meeting" (his native language is Dutch). Once the name of his employer was mentioned, the bells rang, the birds sang, and the gate opened up (can you say corporatism, boys and girls?).

Where the US is really STUPID in such situations, is the utter waste of sending someone like this on the next plane back. Instead they should have fined him a nice penalty (hey, the US is broke!) and let him go on his way with a warning. Call it a stupidity tax, if that makes you feel superior. How much would it be worth YOU to avoid that night in jail and premature return flight, not to mention, the missed meeting?

To be sure, I am certain that if Joost had been moving there, he would have sorted this all out with the US embassy/consulate, prior to travel. Most countries require this advance process, some let you attend this after you arrive. Its probably safer to do before departure.

Information provided by employers CAN NOT BE TRUSTED! When we moved to Germany, we discovered the HR idiot had simply asked an alleged "expert" about my requirements to live in Germany, and gotten totally wrong information. We had no idea they had not consulted the appropriate government office. Fortunately, we found a way to make things work.
posted by Goofyy at 2:05 AM on February 24, 2004


the post was simply a reminder of how communist-bloc like fortress america has become

Yes, we protect our borders against people who don't even try to follow the rules, and admit that they haven't tried, and very clearly think nothing of it. Next step: gulags!

I'm with the no sympathy crowd, but then I carry my passport for a day trip to Niagara Falls and spent twenty minutes roaming around the Gare de Lyon just to be sure that I wasn't illegally smuggling myself into France by travelling in on Eurostar. Giving a damn about another country's rules on immigration when travelling internationally isn't just common courtesy, it's common sense, and it can spare you a night in a holding cell.

It also seems to me that Mr. Joost should be glad that his immigration violation didn't occur at Miami International which has its own holding cell in a dark, dank part of the airport with extremely questionable cleanliness and sanitation and absolute privacy for rogue immigration agents who might want to take their frustrations out on detainees in a less than appropriate manner.
posted by Dreama at 2:28 AM on February 24, 2004


Instead they should have fined him a nice penalty (hey, the US is broke!) and let him go on his way with a warning.

I wouldn't be surprised if -- if he hadn't said that he'd worked on visa waivers before -- they would have taken him back to the Group W Bench, given him a big giant talking to, and gotten him to say the magic words: I'm not here to do paid work; I'm just attending a meeting with potential clients. I apologize for any confusion my bad English caused.

But admitting that you'd worked under a visa waiver before, and multiple times, means that you're banned, and out you go.

Information provided by employers CAN NOT BE TRUSTED!

I wonder if he has a tort against his previous employers/clients, if they ever told him he was good to go immigration-wise?
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:18 AM on February 24, 2004


specialk420: the post was simply a reminder of how communist-bloc like fortress america has become... where one needs to remember to lie about the most infintesmal details of ones comings and goings while financiers of terrorism (bandar bush's wife for one), or capitans of industry who shelter all their income off-shore can come and go as they please...

The next time you fly into Paris or London or Frankfurt or Cairo or Ulaanbaatar or Beijing or Hong Kong or Rio (some of the many places where I've cleared immigrations), try telling their friendly immigrations people that you've previously worked multiple times in their country on a normal tourist visa, and that you intend to do the same thing on your current trip, and see where it gets you. I guarantee it'll get you put right into a detention area where you'll wait until the next available flight back to the "communist-bloc like fortress" that you call home.

It'll probably also get you a "no entry" stamp in your passport that will make it difficult to return to the country in question for a number of years. Joost was sent home, but as he says on his message board, he will be allowed to visit America again as soon as he gets the proper visa.

Here's something to keep in mind: if you tell the immigrations people in London that you have no job, and they don't like the way you look, they'll stamp your passport with a 24-hour visa, which means you have 24 hours to leave their fine country. It happenned to my brother two years ago, when he first flew to Europe to join me in Vienna.

Going through immigrations is no joke, in any country, and the INS workers who detained Mr. Joost, and then sent him home the next day, did exactly what they should have done to a person openly flouting immigration laws and working on a tourist visa, and that statement is coming from someone who's worked in a foreign country in the past without a proper visa. I knew the risks I was taking, and I wouldn't have cried and complained about it if I'd been caught and sent home. Sure, it would have sucked, but I would have known that I was the only one to blame.

This is a nonstory.
posted by syzygy at 8:16 AM on February 24, 2004


did anyone actually read joost's post - ? he admits to making a number fairly innocent mistakes ... the trip in question wasn't one in which he was going to be working, and previous trips he had been assured by the US based client, that a visa wasn't necessary. i doubt the guy did any actual "work" in the USA during those visits anyway -0 unless he lugged his workstation etc with him. ... rather attended meetings or whatever (which admittedly he should not have told the agent was "work")

... on my recent trip to central america, i wasn't issued a ticket (due to e-ticketing) for either leg of my trip until the day of departure at the gate... i can see how that mix up happened as well.

i guess i'm a bit more forgiving than some.
posted by specialk420 at 9:48 AM on February 24, 2004


The obvious solution to this problem is open borders across North America and Europe.

Who's up for that?
posted by timeistight at 9:57 AM on February 24, 2004


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