Saturday, February 11, 2017

No More Maui Trips?

You know things are wrong when one of the greatest windsurfers thinks about not visiting the US windsurfing spots anymore (read here). In the specific case described in  the article Boujmaa linked to, a 19-year old Canadian was refused entry into the US to attend a track-and-field meet with team. The reason? Apparently a picture from a wedding were he was next to another student who is believed to have left to fight in Syria.

Why was he held up? Only the border agent knows, but it seems because he looks middle eastern. He traveled with a Canadian passport (being born in Canada), but his parents are from Morocco (not one of the countries affected by Trump's travel ban). He and the team he was traveling with was held for 5 hours. During this time, he had to hand over his phone and his passwords, so that the border agents could check his Facebook and other social media accounts. Of course, nobody really has to hand over a phone or passwords - but if you don't, you must have something to hide, so you'll be denied entry.

It appears that Trump's "extreme vetting" procedures will be applied not only to immigrants, but also to tourists from "friendly" countries. So if you are planning a windsurf (or other) trip to the US, remember:

  • "It is a privilege for people from other countries to come to the United States and that privilege can be taken away at any time." 
  • A visa does not guarantee entry into the US, since it can be revoked at any time.
  • Border agents can and will ask for your phone and social media passwords.
  • If you are denied entry, you may be held without access to legal help, and flown back at your own expense.
When I originally came to the US, I was one of many Germans who came to complete their education - in my case, by doing postdoctoral research at Harvard. I met with others who had received the same fellowship (from Boehringer Ingelheim Fonds, BIF) every two years. At the first meeting after 9/11, when the US tightened visitations and immigration rules, there were stories told similar to the one above: students and PhD-level researchers with valid visa had been denied entry into the US. The result? A drastic reduction in the number of students and postdocs who came to the US. This was very apparent in the next couple of BIF meetings I attended; the few new students who still came reported that others had decided to stay in Europe instead.

What effect will the travel uncertainties have this time? As Boujmaa's post shows, some visitors will think twice about visiting the US, and some will decide to visit other regions of the world instead (even without a travel ban that affects 140 million possible visitors). The result will be a reduction in visits to the US. More than 60 million visitors enter the US each year - inbound tourism into the US is a $160 billion a year business.  Even a drop by just 2% would lead to a loss of $3 billion in business, which corresponds to a loss of 30,000 to more than 100,000 jobs. But a drop of inbound tourism by at least 10% seems more likely, which would lead to the destruction of several hundred thousand jobs in the US.  Well done, Mr. President!

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