Welcome to the United States, unless you’re a Canadian technologist who is an invited guest at a Microsoft conference, in which case, keep out

Vancouver technologist Darren Barefoot was invited to Redmond by the MSN Search team but was stopped by Immigration and denied entry.

Ultimately, the customs agents concluded that because Microsoft was covering my flight and accommodation, I was being compensated for consulting activities. In order to enter the country, I'd need a work permit.

He says Customs, but I'm pretty sure it was really Immigration that stopped him.

Sorry, Darren. We miss you already. We even asked the rain to take a few days off and invited the sun out to play just for you.

Comments (32)
  1. US immigration don’t even like you if you’re an Australian employee of MS Corporation with a work permit or residency (green card). In fact, from one immigration official I heard exclaiming loudly at SeaTac: "are there any <expletive> passengers here who don’t work for Microsoft?"

  2. Dflare says:

    I know what you mean Raymond. Every day US, its making the worst mistake of becoming a bubble, trying to give the back to the world.

  3. Garry Trinder says:

    It’s impossible to understand thouse Immigration people.

    In the past it was good to have somebody in USA to support your travel – as this will make sure you will leave country and somebody in USA will be responsible for this.

    Trying to enter USA on your own costs was suspect – as you can decide to ask for refund on your return ticket.

  4. Norwegian says:

    What’s even harder to fathom is how visitors are fingerprinted like common criminals. It’s like some communist regime.

    More countries should stand up to this, like Brazil has:


  5. Brian says:

    One wishes Mexico would "stand up to this". There is no shortage of illegal visitors in Texas. I don’t think many work for Microsoft, either.

  6. kbiel says:

    Hmmm, maybe we should move the SeaTac immigration agents down to Texas and tell them that all Mexicans trying to enter without a visa or greencard work for Microsoft.

  7. Jeff says:

    The reverse is also true – I was sent from San Diego to Vancouver to test some software at a customer site. At Vancouver immigration, I was grilled for an hour until I said some magic words about a service contract. If I was carrying skis instead of a laptop, there would have been no problem. Canada is very prickly about Americans getting jobs in Canada that a Canadian could be hired to do instead. So no sympathy from me –

  8. Merit says:

    To be fair, my company has had the exact same problem sending people to Canada. "Meetings" is usually the magic word, but occasionally you get a more in depth grilling. They’re always very interested in who’s paying you while you’re there .

  9. Arthur Davidson Ficke says:

    Going from the US to Canada on "business" can be a hassle to. If you make the mistake of saying that you’re traveling on business you can be in for a hard time. The best thing to say is that your visiting friends. Although to be fair, I’ve never be restricted from entering.

    We’re also only hearing one side of the story. Who knows how much of a stink he actually raised .

  10. FooBar says:

    I attempted to go to Canada once on business with an associate who got a DWI when he was 19. (He was in his mid-50’s at the time)

    Apparently that blacklists you from visiting Canada without jumping through hoops ahead of time. So we got to drive home (about 9 hours)

  11. Darren says:

    Indeed, I expect Canadian border guards are just as fussy. If I get invited back, I’ll just drive across the border with my wife. Maybe I can rent a couple of kids to really legitimize things…

  12. Eric says:

    This is just as funny as hell. I can’t believe they (American Inmigration officers) treat Canadians just as bad as the rest of the "uncivilized" world (meaning everybody but Britishs).

    And I also can’t believe Canadians do the same to Americans. It’s quite moronic that an American can’t say "I’m on business" to a border officer. But I guess is just pay back.

    I am also sure Texas’ capitalist pigs love making dollars out of illegal mexican workers, so no need to stop them.

    The Norwegian guy is right, especially here, in the Nordic countries (I live in Finland, but I am Mexican), taking fingerprints make it seem like you’re a criminal.

  13. Mihai says:

    "What’s even harder to fathom is how visitors are fingerprinted like common criminals. It’s like some communist regime."

    I did live in a comunist regime until 1998 (Romania). And I was never fingerprinted.

    You where fingerprinted only if convicted for something or a suspect for some kind of crime.

  14. Jerry Pisk says:

    I don’t know what the big deal with INS is anyway, these days anyone can do almost any computer related work remotely. If they keep denying people from entering the US the jobs will just move to where people can go. Same with things like conferences, I’ve seen quite a few to move to Europe from the US just to make it easier for people to attend.

  15. Adam says:

    Maybe it’s time to allow free flow of employees between the US and Canada?

  16. "I don’t know what the big deal with INS is anyway, these days anyone can do almost any computer related work remotely."

    that’s exactly one of the reasons they don’t let people enter, if you can do it from a foreign country, why do you have to come here?

    and that applies to getting a visa too (I’ve been through that)

  17. AG says:

    I know some Microsoft people that were held up at the airport on there way to Canada for company business (They were giving training classes for new support people in Canada).

    Their MS managers told them to lie and say they were traveling for personal reasons. One of the guys slipped up and said he was traveling on business. Big hassle ensued.

  18. The funny thing is I was told NAFTA was supposed to do away with this. But a few years ago on a trip from California to Vancouver when I told them I was there on business I too was pulled aside and grilled. They were very concerned I might be bringing software with me. When I told them any and all software I needed had already been transferred over the Internet they let me go. So I guess the moral of the story is, don’t try and physically sneak software into another country, just email it to them instead. :)

  19. Alien from UK in Redmond says:

    On the criteria they’ve given for excluding him I would have been excluded from being interviewed for a job here – Microsoft paid for my flight and accomodation. I told immigration this and they let me in. Maybe if We’d been explicitly trying to recruit him they would have let him through… …such subtle differences.

    Well I’m off to Tukwilla to have my fingerprints checked AGAIN (they seem to think I keep changing them….)

  20. immigration lawyer says:

    Customs is correct, not Immigration, in the sense that the misnamed Department of Homeland Security assigned border issues to the newly-formed Customs and Border Protection agency. Lots of news articles report on how analysts think customs responsibilities and immigration responsibilities at the border should be divided into two different agencies rather than crammed together and separated from investigators that used to be in Customs but have been put in ICE.

  21. Norman Diamond says:

    I think there doesn’t exist a country where immigration officials are allowed to obey their country’s laws or accept truthful statements from applicants or do anything that ordinary people thought would be sensible.

    Canadian immigration officials stopped a U.S. citizen because one of his hobbies was playing music, and he thought there was a chance that friends might let him play music with them for free (i.e. not for pay, not as a job, just for fun). But the immigration official was kind enough to get the intending visitor to promise he would not play music in Canada, and then allowed him in.

    U.S. immigration officials stopped a Canadian citizen because the intending visitor had made too many business trips to customers in Canada, the U.S., and Brazil, and his wallet contained video rental cards from rental stores in Canada, the U.S., and Brazil. Obviously that proved he was an intending immigrant to the U.S. He didn’t get in.

    A Canadian immigration official stopped a Canadian citizen because he was entering from the U.S. after a visit to the U.S., and his residence was in Yukon Territory. Unfortunately another Candian immigration official taught the first one that Yukon is in Canada, and the guy got in.

    The U.S. deports U.S. citizens who were born in the U.S. because they’re children and don’t speak English well. I’ve read that lawsuits are frequent. One time the U.S. deported a U.S. citizen to Jamaica and that made newspapers around the world, though if I recall correctly she was naturalized instead of born in the U.S.

    Sorry I don’t have time to describe how immigration officials in Japan, the U.S., and Canada treat me and my wife after I started trying to sponsor her for travel. It’s like a big competition to see which government can be most inhumane. Japan won the inhumanity contest because I was here at the time, but it wasn’t due to lack of effort by the others. We still don’t visit Canada because the Canadian government promised that they will only let her in when she’s going to stay permanently. We visit the U.S. occasionally because the U.S. changed its mind on what action it would take after having written several times that U.S. law prohibited it from doing so.

  22. Mexico stand up to this? The whole point of illegal immigration (from an employment perspective) is to be able to support an inexpensive, regulatiion-free workforce.

    I can’t imagine that we want intelligent people working with US companies because that would… Improve the global position of US companies?

    Not many people get a PhD so they can sit in the Immigration booth and deny entry to people visiting the US. I imagine that Darren dealt with someone who went for such a job because of the power afforded him by the position.

    They probably even *get* to carry guns…

  23. Vince P says:

    I love these "See!!! That’s why the world hates you people in the US.. Trying to seal yourself in a bubble thinking the rest of the world are barbarians whilst its YOU WHO ARE THE BARBARIANS"

    But then everyone chimes in that this is how it is everywhere, and well.. ooops.. another opportunity to prove one’s Anti-Americanism is Holy and Good is down the drain.

  24. Cooney says:

    I can beat your best, Norman:

    A few years ago, INS in denver deported a canadian citizen who was on a layover (to Canada, mind) to Somalia, even though she was a refugee from there. As I understand it, it took her more than a year to get out again.

  25. Vince P says:

    A few years ago, INS in denver deported a canadian citizen who was on a layover (to Canada, mind) to Somalia, even though she was a refugee from there. As I understand it, it took her more than a year to get out again.

    Well, perhaps she should have flew directly to Canada, or maybe to EUtopia and then to Canada.

  26. Foreigner says:

    I’ve heard several similar horror stories like this before, but all of them were about Canadian customs. Maybe it’s a tit-for-tat think like what Brazil is doing to the US.

  27. Bryan says:

    "But then everyone chimes in that this is how it is everywhere, and well.. ooops.. another opportunity to prove one’s Anti-Americanism is Holy and Good is down the drain."

    Indeed, a couple statements mentioning difficulties of going to canada equate to everybody chiming in about everywhere.

  28. Per Vognsen says:

    While US immigration officers can be pretty strict and arbitrary in their judgments, many people I know have had much more worse experiences in dealing with Canadian immigration people.

    For instance, I know people who’ve been told things like "so, you’re coming here to steal Canadian jobs?" in an aggressive tone when they were just trying to get to a conference in Canada. WTF? Even though I’ve seen US immigration officers go on power-trips, I’ve never seen them pull any shit like that at least.

  29. Silent says:

    Something similar happened to me, when I tried to come to the US.


    I was about to be appointed as a post-doc researcher by a US university. All the paperwork was in progress, but it takes quite a lot of time to get a work visa — a little more than a month, in my case, starting from the point where you can present all required documents.

    Anyway, long story short, we decided to pay them a first visit while all this was getting sorted out, on account that French citizens (I am French) are eligible for the tourism visa waiver.

    Well, that wasn’t going to happen. Had I had my work visa, sure, no problem. Had I said that I was coming to visit New York or whatever, fine, provided I give them the address of the hotel I’d be staying at and a contact name. But here? After showing them that visa work was in progress, I was threatened to be accused of "Lie to an Officer of The Law" and banned from entering the US forever! Illegal worker trying to sneak in, is what I was. Clearly trying to steal the jobs of honest americans with my measly foreign PhD in particle physics and official letter of appointment.

    In the end it didn’t come to that, but still I was denied entry and asked to go home until the visa is sorted out.

    Funily, note that this happened in Montreal where my plane from Paris was stopping. I could therefore spend 4 days in Canada without any trouble, visiting the city, waiting for my plane back. Canadians were remarkably gracious about it, I thought.

    Since then I’ve finally been able to start my appointment, but I was still detained and questioned for half an hour at customs in Washington before they finally let me in. I felt all warm inside…

  30. Norman Diamond says:

    Tuesday, January 31, 2006 3:40 AM by Silent

    > I was threatened to be accused of "Lie to an

    > Officer of The Law"

    Yes, that’s how governments operate. If you tell the truth then you get accused of lying. If you don’t want to be accused of lying then you have to lie. This feature isn’t unique to immigration departments, it applies to every kind of government agency I’ve ever dealt with.

    It also applies to dealings with most lawyers (though there are occasional refreshing exceptions). Tell the truth X, they say "You don’t mean X, you mean Y, and Y is a lie, so you’re a liar." When a government puts you in a position where you need a lawyer, there’s no place to go.

  31. Mitheral says:

    Could have been worse, they might have deported him to <A HREF="http://www.cbc.ca/stories/2002/10/16/arar021016">Syria</A&gt; for a good working over while forgetting to mention the deportation to the Canadian consulate.

  32. Norman Diamond says:

    Oh yeah, and let’s not forget people who were born in Peru and had no ancestry or connection in the US, but were deported from Peru to the US during World War II. Canada put Canadians of Japanese ancestry in concentration camps, while the US put Americans and Peruvians of Japanese ancestry in concentration camps. I bet the US wouldn’t even have issued visas to those Peruvians if they’d wanted to go.

    The US 14th amendment was already dead before that, but here’s how it stayed dead during the 1990’s. When the US paid $20,000 to each survivor of the US concentration camps, that was only to survivors that were 100% human. If a survivor was 25% human, the US paid them $5,000. That’s how every person gets equal protection of the law in the US, a 25% human gets protection equal to 25% of a whole human. Oddly they still got 100% of a letter from Bill Clinton, instead of 25% of a letter.

    Of course Peru’s failure to pay anything isn’t excusable either, but neither does it excuse the US, nor does it result in rescusitation of dead US constitutions.

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