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US Customs Does Not Allow Conference Speakers?? – My Experience

Affiliate Summit West 2010 started this weekend in Las Vegas. I was honoured to be a speaker at this conference.

I knew the Winnipeg airport would be a little bit crazy, especially flying internationally. But I am a member of NEXUS, a trusted traveler program between Canada and the US.

Important note to the story: I changed my last name this past fall. Changing all my documents was no problem, but the folks at the NEXUS office had trouble getting everything updated. After a few visits in November, they assured me everything was updated. Today was the first time using NEXUS since doing that update.

Sunday morning (this morning), I got myself to the airport for 4am. After one hour of waiting in lines to check in and wait for US Customs to open, I waltzed past the long line at customs and up to the NEXUS line. A quick scan of my irises later, I had my printout to give to the customs officer and I could proceed to security.

I handed my print out to the woman who did not appear to enjoy working at 5am. She looked up code and informed me that I had let a document expire on my NEXUS account and therefore was in violation of the program. She proceeded to interrogate me about where I was going and why. I explained that I was scheduled to speak at a conference on Tuesday morning and that I’ve done this many times before. She grilled me on whether or not I was getting remunerated and whether or not people pay to attend this conference. My answers – I do not get paid to speak at the conference (other than my regular wages paid by my Canadian employer) and yes people pay to attend the conference.

Told that this was NOT allowed, I was waltzed into the US Customs and Immigration office and handed over to the supervisor for interrogation #2. By this time, they had all my ID, my business card, and my integrity. I went over the same details and again I was told, people CANNOT go to the United States to speak at a conference that people pay to attend. The supervisor seemed aghast when I said that I had done it many times before – he likened it to admitting I’ve done these horrible fraudulent activities in the past. He informed me that I was lucky I’d never been caught before, and that the other hundreds and thousands of Canadians who go to the US on a daily basis to speak are also “lucky” they’d never been caught.

Finally, my punishment. I was told that they would be lenient with me and that I would be “permitted to withdraw my application to enter the United States.” But that I needed to wait for the paperwork to be completed.

45 minutes later, I’m sat down in a little room for the “paperwork” – which ended up being the third interrogation, fingerprinting, and a mug shot.

This guy was a little bit nicer and tried to explain things to me, but I still had to go over my story again and again be scolded for what I was trying to do and had done in the past. I gave my weight, height, marital status, employment information, etc.

Another 30 minutes later, the paperwork was finally done. After being told that my NEXUS trusted traveler status was now revoked for life, they started finger printing. However, the program kept freezing and after three tries, they decided I didn’t need to be finger printed and have a mug shot done since they finally admitted they didn’t think I was knowingly trying to do anything wrong.

At 7am, I was on my way home.

SO! Why was I turned away? What are the rules around this?

All travelers to the US must go on a Visa. Now, as Canadians, we don’t require a physical Visa. But if you’re going for business, you’re traveling on a B-1. If you’re going for pleasure, you’re traveling on a B-2. Most people will never know this.

The documents surrounding this confuse me greatly. But here’s what I found on the US Department of State’s web site:

The chart below is an overview of key groupings of temporary business related travel permitted on business visitor visas.

Purpose of Your Travel About Your Temporary Visit
Conference, meeting, trade show or business event attendee Will receive no salary or income from a U.S based company/entity. For scientific, educational, professional or business purposes.
Lecturer or speaker No salary or income from a U.S. based company/entity, other than expenses incidental to the visit. If honorarium will be received, activities can last no longer than nine days at any single institution or organization; payment must be offered by an institution or organization described in INA 212(g); honorarium is for services conducted for the benefit of the institution or entity; and visa applicant will not have accepted such payment or expenses from more than five institutions or organizations over the last six months.

Download the document here: Business Travel to the United States – What Type of U.S. Visa Will You Need.

The documents the customs officers actually gave me seem to indicate that the issue lies under the category of “employment”. That, regardless of whether I was compensated for speaking or not, I’m taking the place of an American who could have done the same thing. They did not seem to care that speakers are selected for their credibility and knowledge. Maybe that’s because of all the blank states I got when saying words like “affiliate” and “search engine optimization”. Who knows.

I’m at a loss now. Although I was not formally denied entry, my record is now marked for life with this “incident”. I go to the states a lot. That’s why I got the NEXUS membership. I don’t know what this means for me, speaking at future conferences.

Many are saying “well I guess now you lie and say you’re just attending.” Except that I can’t do that. If I were to be caught lying about the same issue that brought me trouble this time, there consequences would be much less pleasant. And honestly I don’t condone lying to any peace officer – customs, police, etc.

What I want is to ensure this doesn’t happen again, and to continue my life and career just as I was, with minimal trouble.

Was this a “quota” issue? Did this happen because of a glitch with my NEXUS membership, so I was flagged as an easy person to turn away? I don’t know. NEXUS will for sure be getting a phone call from me this morning. They didn’t know what they were doing in November and as a result, I now have a record, I lost my trusted traveler status, I will forever be scrutinized when crossing the border, I cannot fulfill my commitment of speaking, and smaller things (but greater to my heart) like not seeing my dear friends whom I only see a few times a year at conferences like these.

Thoughts and your experiences are welcome.

Posted in Border Security.

39 Responses

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  1. There has to be some sort of appeals process with Nexus. It sounds like the customs agents were citing the wrong part of the code. Now that you have this knowledge, which clearly states that you *can* enter the US to speak at a conference as long as you’re not being paid, I would write a letter to find out how to appeal.

    Seems like Customs is just as bull-headed as the TSA when interpreting the rules to suit their preference. If you do get appealed, and even if you don’t, carry a copy of the business travel document every time you cross the border for a conference.

    Sorry this happened, darling.

  2. Yes I think there is an appeal process. Honestly I’m so discouraged I don’t really want to go through that… but at the same time, there’s a principle here. This shouldn’t have happened, and I shouldn’t be reprimanded for it.

  3. My heart breaks for you as well as for the conference attendees who paid and were looking forward to your session. Oh, Lyndsay…WOW! Is there anything we, on the US side, can do?

    Quota? Sorry, there is no American who stands up to you! And for this, you were treated like a fugitive!!!

  4. Hi Lyndsay ! I am sorry you had to go through this. Coincidentally I was reading this article in nthe Economist “Terrorists hurt America most by making it close its borders” http://www.economist.com/world/unitedstates/displaystory.cfm?story_id=15270716 quoting from the article

    Americans are, by and large, a courteous bunch. Interactions with strangers are typically sweetened with a generous frosting of “Sir”, “Ma’am” and “Excuse me”. Yet in a survey commissioned by the travel industry, more than half of visitors found American border officials rude and unpleasant. By a two-to-one margin, the country’s entry process was rated the world’s worst. This is not a problem only for whingeing journalists and other foreign riff-raff. It is also a problem for America.”An immigration official lives in fear of admitting the next Mohammed Atta, but there is no penalty for excluding the next Einstein, or for humiliating tourists who subsequently summer in France.”

    I will be writing a post and your experience hits harder home.

    Shashi

  5. I am horrified to read this. US conferences could become something else if the US INS treats us like this.

    For Pubcon 2008 I (an Aussie) entered the US from Calgary, which I visited the day before. I was a speaker so I admitted that and said that I didn’t get a cent to speak and that my company had paid for me to go there (true). I remember that entry because it was the first time I had to scan all fingers, not just the index fingers. They also asked me for how long I had been an Australian citizen (28 years). And then some more questions. They let me in. For Pubcon 2009 I wasn’t asked (at LAX) any probing questions beyond the purpose of the visit – to attend a conference.

    I have only a sample of three transits from Canada to the US in 30 years, but the INS inspectors were the grumpiest I have ever encountered. The Canadian posts must be the gulag for the INS. By comparison, the ones at SFO, DFW and LAX are quick and efficient. Outside the airport they can be quite chatty and friendly. 🙂

    PS. In Firefox your comment form has no right border and I couldn’t see what I was typing, so I had to write in Notepad and paste it.

  6. Lee Mccoy said

    I was made to feel like a terrorist when I came over for SES06. Like you get interrogated for attending a conference too.

    Over the top me thinks!

  7. I’m not attending a friends wedding I was in the process of planning to go to in New York because I simply cannot be bothered to deal with Americal Immigration at the moment.

    I feel for you and for many reasons I think America is going to lose tourists. This harms the economy in many different ways but part of it is the money you are not spending on food, a hotel and whatnot.

    I’m so sorry that this happened to you but agree – Get on those NEXUS people and kick their butts. They allowed this to happen to you and have cost you time and money.

  8. My God! That must have been so awful. You are a saint for enduring this awful process. I am sad as an American that we have allowed such a process to exist. Your story must be told, and I’ve retweeted it as I know many who are speakers and may run into this same drama.

    I hope this all gets worked out, I just feel awful that you were trying to give a talk, and teach people, and were treated so poorly.

  9. Damn, Lynds…I don’t even know what to say. Aside from now I’m worried we may never meet in real life and I will curse US Customs until the day I die if that’s the case.

    I’m terribly sorry and I can only imagine how frustrating, humiliating and embarrassing the whole experience must have been. I’d like to say this is an isolated incident, but after some of the stories I’ve heard (like a 2-year-old being patted down because his name matched that of someone on the no-fly list), it seems that the authorities are keen to try to steal the dignity of virtually anyone attempting to travel by air these days.

  10. Lyndsay,

    We all cross the boarder all the time, and we’re all potential victims of a US Immigration/Custom officials whims. If one decides you’re breaking the rules, it doesn’t matter how many you see they have each others back.

    Technically speaking from my knowledge as a Canadian citizen and the rules of NAFTA, you are allowed to travel for the US unimpeded for just such events and even to conduct training sessions as long as you are paid by a Canadian company (your employer) or receive no formal payment from the conference. You’ve dug up the correct document.

    Clearly they are wrong, but I don’t think that will help you. I know people who’ve tried to appeal these rulings and even with the costly help of lawyers they ran into a brick wall. The good news is with Nexus. They do have a clear appeals process and while it may take a couple of months I know that if you can show the card was taken away for incorrect reasons (or even a dumb mistake) they will reissue it. I had a friend lose his for a dumb mistake of clicking the wrong button on the screen and managed to get his card back.

  11. If it was me I’d simply write to President Obama at the White House, obviously he won’t reply, but it should be passed onto the correct department and answered correctly. I’ve done this in the past with the UK System – addressed it to the current Prime Minister and always got a decent reply.
    You could simply send them a link to your blog!
    Good Luck

  12. This incident has me terrified. I’m supposed to be speaking at Pubcon South this April. Do I lie and say I’m just attending? Do I tell the truth and risk a similar incident?

    I’m particularly scared because I’ve seen this happen before. My roommate ended up being charged with fraud against the US government due to a 2am miscommunication with US Customs at Pearson. It took him a year, several thousand dollars, and an immigration lawyer to get the charged dismissed, but it’s still on his record and still causes him issues when crossing the border.

  13. I feel for you on this one. I’ve had this exact same experience (a few times) and
    it really seems to be which officer you get, and how they feel at the time. Based
    on my previous experiences with speaking at conferences and going to the US, you
    get a feeling of which officers are going to be adamant, and which are not. The last
    two times I’ve gone to speak at a conference, I’ve been asked the following questions:

    Officer: What is the purpose of your trip?
    Me: I’m attending a conference (not a lie)
    Officer: What kind of work do you do?
    Me: I’m a telephony consultant (they don’t like VoIP — have no idea what it is,
    but they recognize the word “telephone” in “telephony”)
    Officer: What is the conference on?
    Me: Telephony.
    Officer: Have a good day sir.
    Me: Thank you sir, have a good day.

    Always look them in the eye, but don’t stare too hard. If you’re looking at them
    when you answer, they have less reason to be suspicious. Don’t fidget, and don’t
    be verbose; only state as much as is needed to answer the question. Have an idea about what questions you might be asked, such as “Where are you staying?”, “How long will you be gone?”, “Who is your employer?”, etc…

    If in the end, you get a yellow folder, expect to be waiting for a very long time. It doesn’t matter if you’re the only one in the secondary inspection at 5am with 8 officers in the other room — you’ll be there at least an hour if not longer.

    Other things to bring with you in terms of documentation: resume stating you have at least 3 years of experience in what you’re going to be speaking on (you could use it for applying for a VISA if they hassle you about it), documentation about the conference, who is running it, and ideally a letter from the conference organizers on letterhead stating why you’re speaking, and that you’re an expert in the area, and that no Americans were available for the speaking slot that you are filling.

    These are all things I’ve learned the hard way unfortunately, but typically have few issues at the border now.

    Leif Madsen.

  14. Leif pretty much nailed it.. Even though you were not being paid and even though you have done it many times in the past, you are coming to the US to work, even if you aren’t being paid for your services.. And for that you need a work Visa.. The rules have always been there, they are just now being enforced..

    Personally, I think the whole thing is pretty stupid.. But with friends in TSA and Customs I understand their side of the issue as well..

    I’d recommend that anyone traveling across the border to speak get a work visa or simply shut up about why they are going..

  15. Adam F said

    Lyndsay,

    Pretty crappy experience to happen 🙁 this happened to me 2-3 years ago crossing by car, I work for the Canadian side of a CDN/US company, my work requires me to travel to the states A LOT for business doing installs/providing training/customization of software. I had been doing this for 2-3 years without trouble then one day crossing the border the officer took exception to it.

    This involved them interrogating me multiple times, accusing me of stealing jobs, and of course lying to border agents for the last 2-3 years about the true nature of my work ( which of course was false ). I tried multiple times to explain to them that I do not get paid by American sources while on-site, I am a salaried Canadian worker. They had me get all kinds of information from the office, everything from my employment contract to the papers from when the company was incorporated, none of this provided them what they wanted to see.

    After a few hours of this they gave me the option of being denied that entry into the US, or a blanket 7 year ban from the US ( which is not an option as I lived in a border town and did most of our shopping in the US ). I took the deny of that entry and the company ended up calling an immigration lawyer. In the end I got an L-1 visa, but for months afterward every time I crossed their computer would beep/flash and I would have to go into the office and wait while they fiddled with the computer for 10-15minutes to clear whatever flag it was.

    In researching a bit after this all happened, from what I could gather the only person who can overturn the deny is the officer who denied you in the first place. I doubt it’s worth trying to get the original deny over turned, all you could really do is try to ensure that you have some paperwork for the future that ensures you get into the states for your speaking engagements.

    This happened to me before NEXUS was available ( or known to me at least ), I inquired about NEXUS a few months ago and was told because of my previous deny to the US it probably wouldn’t save me any time crossing the border so I just kept my 50$ 🙂

    One happy note is my passport expired last summer, since I have received the new one I haven’t gotten any extra scrutiny at the border.. it has made crossing quicker 🙂 ( along with the L-1, with that they barely ask me any questions ).

    Adam.

  16. adfgx said

    My sympathies, this is the sort of thing one finds out the hard way.

    — “She looked up code and informed me that I had let a document expire on my NEXUS account and therefore was in violation of the program.”

    At that point, nothing you could have said or done would have gotten you into the US. The outcome of your application had been decided by the computer — you were out of the equation. Even if that poor lady had wanted to let you through, it wasn’t her call to make. Your best move here would have been to retrace your steps back to your car; call the conference and inform them you wouldn’t be able to attend; and call “NEXUS” to demand an explanation. (Did they inform you a document had expired? I’d say that should be in the realm of their obligations.)

    — “She proceeded to interrogate me about where I was going and why.”

    Again, this was all irrelevant to you passing customs. The agent’s only purpose in life right then was to catch you in a lie — about anything. I’m sure you can extrapolate the type of treatment you’d have received had that happened…

    — “I was told that they would be lenient with me and that I would be ‘permitted to withdraw my application to enter the United States.'”

    The olde good cop routine… Customs agents, police officers, and any other government employees of the United States of America (Canada too, BTW) have every right to lie. The only thing they are held to account about is their name and badge number, full stop. This was an example of such a lie. Truth is, they couldn’t withdraw your application on your behalf; your doing so relieved them of having to deal with any sort of appeals process on your part in the future — since you implicitely waived that right. This was probably your biggest mistake, but I don’t blame you. Taking your fingerprints over and over again was simple psychological conditioning: at no point were you being detained, but they needed you to think you were to push papers on you; in reality you could have simply walked away. Now you know how these things work.

    — “What I want is to ensure this doesn’t happen again […]”

    The best way to do that is to file formal Visa applications yourself, not through any middle-men. Personally, I take advantage of the Visa waiver program (https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov/), but I see Canada is not an eligible country… Check with your local consulate or embassy to ensure you’ve done everything right before showing up at the border.

    Anyway, I’m sorry this happened to you. Hopefully it won’t discourage you from travelling to the US again! Best of luck in your future travels!

  17. I’ve heard about this before. Go speak with the local U.S. consulate, and see what they can do for you.

  18. Lyndsay, this is embarrassing to me. Please let me know if you need a letter of support, or anything else, to get this resolved.

    http://sphinn.com/story/139018

  19. Mark said

    Clearly, the only thing that can be done is to avoid travel to the United States.

    When their idiocy starts causing conferences like the one you were supposed to speak at to schedule for Toronto or Vancouver instead so that attendees don’t get hassled, their politicians will realize what their policies are truly costing them.

  20. I don’t think the idiocy is just US-based. I recall having to dodge a bullet when entering Australia once with the same kind of issue being raised.

    Having said that, the custom offices seem really confused. Put it to you this way. Change the headline of your post to this:

    USA Says: Speakers From Latvia Don’t Need Visa, Those From Canada Do

    Because look here:
    http://travel.state.gov/visa/temp/without/without_1990.html

    “The Visa Waiver Program (VWP) enables nationals of 35 participating countries to travel to the United States for tourism or business (visitor [B] visa purposes only) for stays of 90 days or less without obtaining a visa. The program was established in 1986 with the objective of eliminating unnecessary barriers to travel, stimulating the tourism industry, and permitting the Department of State to focus consular resources in other areas.”

    Canada’s not on the list. Why not? Well, they have a specific answer on that same page about that:

    “Canada, Mexico and Bermuda are not participants in the Visa Waiver Program. The Immigration and Nationality Act includes other provisions for visa-free travel for nationals of Canada and Bermuda under certain circumstances.”

    When you go to another page right after that statement for more info:
    http://travel.state.gov/visa/temp/without/without_1260.html

    The answer seems to be that you don’t need a visa. Like you don’t need one at all unless for the specific reasons listed, none of which seems to be about “working” as you’ve described.

  21. It would be great if you could confirm whether or not you let them know that while people do pay to go to the conference, you did not because you were a speaker and speakers don’t have to pay. If that was material fact, it could be judged to be a form of remuneration and if it was, everyone else needs to know that.That’s why paid speakers get an “honorarium” and not a paycheck… an honorarium is not considered payment.

    If I drive north to Canada I can’t have any business cards with me or in my car, since they consider my posessing *any* promotional materials intended to be left behind in Canada to be proof that I am working or seeking work in Canada (which is not allowed without a work visa).

  22. Dana – You are awesome and always bring my spirits up, thank you!

    Shashi – I thoroughly enjoyed that article. There’s far too much truth to it.

    Ash – I apologize about your post not going up right away, it got flagged as spam. But I appreciate your story.

    Lee – I remember being at SES06 when they found out about that British plot. The result of that was no liquids on the plane. Do you recall if your incident was before or after that?

    Judith – It is a SAD day when you can’t even attend a friend’s wedding without going through a hard time. I don’t blame you for not wanting to deal with it.

    Matthew – I know that this stuff happens because customs and security officers are under major scrutiny for letting “bad” people slip through the cracks. It’s so frustrating for us that are on the up and up. Thanks for your support and retweets!

    Alysson – I swear we will meet, somehow, someway 🙂 I can still go to the states, I will just be more careful about why and with what documentation. I heard about the two-year old. How can they really think a two-year old has the capacity to know about terrorism?

    Alan – I thought of you and Jim, probably the two people I know the best that often go stateside to speak and attend conferences. I agree that my best bet is to pursue the NEXUS side of things. I’ve talked for a few people at both the US and Canadian NEXUS offices, seems all was good. I’ll continue to dig tomorrow.

    Elaine – That’s not a bad idea. At least I’m on record that way. I wonder if I could get the White House to give me some link love? hehehe

    Dawn – I’m sure you’ll be okay. Get Brett to email you with all the details of the conference, the fact that you’re not paid, and that you’re speaking because you’re an expert and the best qualified person for the panel. And I’ll keep you updated on what I find out.

    Leif – I agree that your demeanor plays a huge role in how you’re treated. I dated a Canada Customs officer for several years and learned exactly what they’re looking for. Look them in the eye, answer clearly and don’t say more than you have to.

    Steve – I didn’t interpret that speaking at a conference is considered work, but is that where the gray area is? I do understand these officers are just doing their job, but it’s so frustrating when immigrations are so vague and applied to different people in different ways.

    Adam – I cannot BELIEVE your story. That is un.real. I’m glad things are ok for you now. What border town do you live in? I was born and raised in St. Catharines Ontario, if that’s where you’re near.

    adfgx – Interesting details… seems to come back to us knowing our rights. But really, how are we ever supposed to know every statute and policy? Honestly, when I was being questioned by the first officer I thought to myself “this isn’t worth it, I should just go home” (it WAS 5am!) I guess in hindsight, I wish I’d done that.

    Michelle – Tomorrow I’m talking to the Port Director at the airport. If I don’t get anywhere there, I will talk to the consulate. Thank you for the suggestion.

    Mark – I would love to just avoid the US but I’m afraid I’ve made too many awesome friends from past conferences. And from all the support I’ve received from all this, there are so many more than I want to meet. I wish there were more high profile search conferences in Canada – I only know of SMX Toronto and SES Toronto.

    Danny – I’m so thrilled to see you weighing in on this. Like I told Jim Hedger on IM earlier today, I appreciate hearing from frequent international speakers and travelers. Love the headline suggestion. That’s why you’re one of the best 🙂 I will print out the links you gave me and keep them on hand for more details that seem to work in my favour.

    John – I’m shocked to hear that you cannot bring your business cards!! Has that happened to you more than once? Seems like a similar case to me, an officer that’s interpreting a vague policy WAY off base.

    Everybody, thank you so much for your comment, tweets, emails, IMs and just your general support. You’ve given me a ton of information that will hopefully help me sort this out.

  23. Michelle said

    I get hassled every time I go down to visit family in North Dakota. I have to give them a huge novel like answer as to why my cousin is a dual citizen, what she is doing there, why her husband is Canadian and not America… how her dad became an America. Yadda, yadda, yadda. Every. time.

  24. Michelle, that’s crazy. You’d think the dual citizenship would make things EASIER, not harder. You should just write and notarize a document. haha!

  25. Lyndsay,

    Sorry to hear about this experience.

    This is messed up. These comments make my head hurt.

  26. Heh, thanks David. It made my head hurt too. I guess that’s why I had a migraine yesterday.

  27. I’ve dealt with this issue as well when travelling to Sweden, Canada and the U.K.

    I always said I was attending a conference. I had heard a long time ago that if you indicated you were speaking at a conference, you might have different issues. I’m attending conference, which as Leif said is true.

    They needed to know how long I was going, where I was staying, if I would go anywhere before or after that, and what were my plans.

    You feel “guilty” even if you’re doing nothing wrong. So as mentioned above, it’s not just American immigration, it is seemingly Immigration.

    I also will tell you that it’s worse, if you go horse-back riding. You are supposed to say whether you’ve been near livestock and in some cases if I’d gone horse back riding, I ended up in another long line and processing.

    Laura

  28. Lyndsay,

    I’ve had the entire day to think about this, and what keeps coming back to me is that the only thing that should matter is whether someone is a potential terrorist – all the excuses in the world can not justify the stupidity, arrogance and demeaning behavior you experienced as a result of politically generated yet randomly enforced laws, especially when it comes to speaking at a conference of all things! This type of situation is an embarrassment to every American citizen and anyone who says otherwise belongs in a permanent kindergarten time-out.

  29. Lyndsay, I have never heard of this before. I have seen a few people get hassled when they said they were going to a conference in a Pub before, but nothing like your case.

    If a letter of support from conference chairs would help, I am sure we could round up several 😉

    Brett

  30. Thanks Brett. We will definitely do that for next November! Sorry I can’t make it to Dallas but at this point, it might be a good thing.

  31. Oh Lynds 🙁
    I’m so sorry you had to and continue to still go through this! Lame.
    You were most definitely missed!!

  32. atroon said

    Lyndsey,

    As an American, I’m embarrassed that you had to go through this while traveling legitimately. I’ve crossed several times in and out of Calgary from the US and it’s always a pleasure to get there, and painful to return. Nothing like having your suitcase contents homogenized.

    Bruce Schneier posted this video from the RMR on his website lately…perhaps consider it fair warning?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yZfbTlYpKYo

  33. Brenda said

    I went through the very same type of ordeal, held for 6.5 hours interogated by 4 officers (with huge egos) they were nothing short of being rude, intimidating bullies. For over 11 years I would cross the border, into the US from BC, Canada…never a problem. One day I was the lucky winner of the random check. My car was search with a dog, my purse taken away, my body padded down, then yelled at, screamed at with finger pointed in my face, the supervisor was accusing me of trying to live in the us, because I wore gold band on my thumb, he accused me taking my wedding band off my ring finger and placing it on my thumb. I urged him to try to take that ring off my thumb, it won’t come off without being cut, I’ve worn it there for almost 7 years. I had proof of all Ties and Equity with me. Nothing I said was believed, once they decide to make you a criminal you will remain flagged. It has been over 9 months since that day I was escorted out, denied entry, and to this day when I go back through, I am held for at least 2 hours while they dissect every piece of paperwork I show them in my Ties and Equity package. To my knowledge there is not re-course.
    Land of the Free, is a JOKE, the USA should keep putting that wall of china up, and keep themselves in, including Wallmart. Yes, I’m pissed. I’m tired of the red tape, tired of the bullies, and frankly it’s not wonder the American government is disliked so much. Do you know that in the codes, it states, every officer has the right to use HIS own discretion, and you CAN NOT object or get what he writes in your file changed EVER!!!

  34. Brian Bailey said

    What a load of crap on the part of US Customs. They should be ASAHAMED of themselves for treating a friendly and legitimate visit by their best friends (they don’t have many) in the world. Screw them.

  35. Some more comments – Although Australians are among those who get a Visa Waiver, our passports are still stamped B1 or B2 if allowed entry. The ESTA is an electronic version of the green visa waiver form we still have to complete at the border. Getting rejected at the ESTA stage just means you needn’t bother buying a plane ticket, since you will get sent home on the next plane. It merely gives the US agencies time to check you out well in advance — you are still at the mercy of the INS officer at the border.

    I was horrified to read the advice to take a resume with you. If you have seen any of the UK/AU/NZ “Customs” or “Airport” type of shows, you’ll know that possessing resumes and graduation records are a sure sign that you are intending to overstay and work illegally.

    Hoping to see you at Pubcon in November.

  36. HP said

    I have same problem in reverse. US Citizen blacklisted by Canadian customs. Similar details from almost 10 years ago. Still sticks with me to date with no way to clear according to Canadian Immigration. I thought that NAFTA was supposed to help

  37. Hello All: I practice U.S. immigration law and I was trying to convince a client not to travel to the U.S. as a B-1 conference speaker and was looking for ‘bad’ experiences to forward to him and found your site. There is a lot of confusion among all of you. Maybe one day Lyndsay can explore a webminar or Q/A where I can explain how the process works (or doesn’t).
    Best
    Ronald A. Zisman

Continuing the Discussion

  1. Speaking at a U.S. Conference? Read This First linked to this post on January 18, 2010

    […] the blog post, Lyndsay describes her ordeal, which basically involved three separate interrogations by U.S. […]

  2. Canadian Rejects Road Trip | Kate Morris linked to this post on March 26, 2010

    […] GET ALONG! Stop giving decent citizens on both sides shit for no reason. This was just as stupid as Lyndsay’s denial to the US. I know we are all about border safety, but really? A bounced $40 check? 7 years […]

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