This morning, for the first time in my life, I was denied access to a country. In particular, I was denied access to the United States.
I was scheduled to spend three days at Microsoft as part of the MSN Search Champs program. I knew a number of people who were going, it sounded like fun, and I was excited to see the Redmond campus.
When I arrived at US Customs, I did the thing I always do when travelling on business to the States. I said I was attending some meetings. This has always worked in the past, and, conveniently, is also tends to be true.
Today, I must have had a particularly inquisitive customs agent. He asked a few more questions, asked to see my business card and then upgraded (downgraded?) me to the secondary interview room. There I had a longer interview, and I answered all their questions politely and honestly.
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. I didn’t have one, and certainly wasn’t going to produce one in the next four hours, so I was stuck in newly-Conservative Canada.
I then stood around for 45 minutes while the agent processed my ‘withdrawal of application’. Ironically, his machine was downloading a patch–government IT folks apparently don’t run these things in the middle of the night. So, I had to wait until that was done, while casting worried glances at the three (three!) boxes of rubber gloves sitting on an adjacent stainless steel table.
While I waited, I watched a half dozen other people get processed. Five out of six of them were denied.
I asked the agent whether this would impact future attempts to travel for pleasure to the US. He said no, so long as I had enough documentation to verify my pleasure travel status. He also advised me to, “you know, go to Hawaii and Palm Springs”. So I guess a pleasure cruise in Lake Michigan is out of the question.
Ultimately, it was a civil experience. No strip search or, uh, digital exam (thank goodness, as Constable Hurtado (not his real name) had massive hands). Just a conversation and a lot of waiting. I wouldn’t recommend it, but I certainly had an easier time than Jeremy.