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Irish Stripe techie denied entry to US – for having wrong stamp in passport

Snub says more about misunderstanding rules than anti-immigrant trends, though

By Thomas Claburn, 26 Apr 2017

An Irish Stripe worker was denied entry to America because they had a Somalian stamp in their passport, according to the payment-processing biz's CEO.

Chief exec Patrick Collison shared the tale of his employee's clash with US immigration officials to highlight a concern, shared among many in Silicon Valley who rely on skilled staff from abroad, that America's crackdown on foreigners will dent the superpower's economy.

"US immigration policy changes are somewhat broader in scope than they might appear," chief exec Patrick Collison tweeted on Monday. "Any erosion to the US's reputation as the preeminent destination for high-potential people will be very costly."

Collison included a screenshot of a message from a Stripe employee and citizen of Ireland who recounted being denied entry to the US recently. The Register asked Stripe by phone and email for further information about Collison's post, but the company didn't want to talk about it. We also attempted to contact to the person we suspect to be the post's author, but have not heard back.

The unidentified would-be traveler expressed gratitude for an earlier note sent around, presumably by Collison, that conveyed sympathy about the travel ban that the Trump administration has been trying to implement.

The individual described being denied the opportunity to fly to San Francisco, stating, "At pre-clearance, they [immigration authorities] decided to question and intimidate me... fun! They told me I had a common name and it was a match ... and they wanted to see if I was the person they were looking for..."

The account continues, "They said they weren't letting me in because of my Somali [passport] stamp and relied on some newly enforced ban on having been in one of 'the seven countries' post-2011 ... I spent two days in Somalia with my NGO as part of a UN mission doing famine response in 2012."

The seven countries mentioned – Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen – have predominantly Muslim populations, and show up in the first proposed Trump travel ban. The current travel ban proposal, facing judicial review, omits Iraq, for diplomatic reasons.

The internet bites back

Indignation followed in the replies to Collison's post on Twitter, with one person concluding that the Trump administration has begun targeting Somalia-based NGO workers.

But in the response thread, several individuals, including an immigration attorney, dispelled that misapprehension. The changes that so concern Collison hail from rules implemented during the Obama administration.

As a result of policy amendments conceived in 2015 (HR 158, The Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015) and implemented in 2016, the State Department's Visa Waiver Program (VWP), which allows people from 38 participating countries to travel to the US without a visa, now excludes individuals who visited any of the seven listed countries on or after March 1, 2011.

Travel for diplomatic or military purposes may qualify for an exception, but famine relief work does not.

It is thus unsurprising that a traveler from Ireland, one of the participating VWP countries, who visited Somalia cannot take advantage of the VWP. He or she can still travel to the US if granted a visa.

Such problems were foreseen by the ACLU. In December, 2015, the rights group sent a letter [PDF] to members of Congress condemning HR 158 – which initially affected only nationals of Iraq, Syria, Iran, or Sudan – as discriminatory and arbitrary legislation.

Beyond falling afoul of VWP rules, it appears to us that this incident has more to do with discrimination based on the traveler's name and ethnic background than newly hostile government policies. Collison's post highlights the fact that the Stripe employee is an Irish citizen. But were you to assume the individual in question is a blond-haired, blue-eyed white man, you might be mistaken.

If our speculation about the individual's identity is correct, the person's name – more commonly associated with the Middle East than Ireland – may be what brought extra attention from authorities in the first place.

In an email to The Register, a spokesperson for US Customs & Border Protection said without knowing the individual's identity, it's difficult to look into what happened. But she confirmed that policies limiting visa-free travel to the US have been in place for a while.

"On December 18, 2015, President Obama signed into law the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2016, which includes the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015 (the Act)," the CBP spokesperson said. "The Act, among other things, establishes new eligibility requirements for travel under the VWP.

"These new eligibility requirements do not bar travel to the United States. Instead, a traveler who does not meet the requirements must obtain a visa for travel to the United States, which generally includes an in-person interview at a US Embassy or Consulate." ®

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