Software engineer detained at JFK airport; forced to prove he is really an engineer

Visitors to the US are currently going through a lot of trouble due to the temporary immigration ban imposed by Trump administration and the increased security checks for travelers from abroad. Innocent travelers are being harassed and unnecessarily put through troubling time by the Customs and Border Protection officials. The latest victim is a traveler from Lagos, Nigeria who wanted to visit the USA for business purpose.

The 28-year-old Celestine Omin is a software engineer at a technology start-up firm Andela that facilitates links between software developers in Africa and employers in the US. When Omin arrived at John F. Kennedy airport on Sunday, he was welcomed by a rather unceremonious customs staff which didn’t believe that he was a software engineer. Therefore, he was provided with a test to prove that he was indeed a software engineer. The experience of arriving at the US became a challenging and derogatory one for him.

Celestine Omin in the middle

He poured his heart out in a detailed LinkedIn post in which he described what happened at the airport and how helpless he felt as he already was feeling so tired after 24 hours long Qatar Airways flight. Omin felt exhausted already but was made to wait for 20 minutes before the questioning by the Customs and Border Protection officer started. He was asked all sorts of questions from his personal to professional life.

Afterward, he was sent to a small room and had to wait for an hour. Then another customs official entered and started grilling him some more. The officer asked him in a clear-cut yet suspicious manner “Your visa says you are a software engineer. Is that correct?” to which Omin replied that he was. Upon hearing this, Omin was handed over a piece of paper and asked to provide a proof of his occupation by answering the following questions.

* State the function that checks the balance of a Binary Search Tree

* Explain an abstract class and illustrate why you need it

Omin was feeling very down and sleep deprived, but he had no choice. According to him the questions were “opaque and could have multiple answers.” Nevertheless, Omin managed to complete the test and prove that he by profession was a software engineer. But, to his dismay, the customs official, who had no knowledge of software engineering, stated that Omin had failed the test.

“That is when I thought I would never get into the United States,” said Omin in a LinkedIn post.

By this time, Omin was convinced that he would not be allowed to enter the US, but surprisingly, the official said that he could go, but he also stated that: “Look, I am going to let you go, but you don’t look convincing to me.”

Despite feeling discouraged, he put himself together and walked out of the office without saying a word in response. Later, Omin learned that the Customs officer contacted Andela and its New York-based client First Access to get information about the legitimacy of Omin’s claims.

The co-founder of Andela Christina Sass was the one who was contacted by the Customs office. Sass was quite surprised because this was the very first time that any software engineer sent to the USA by Andela has undergone such rigorous questioning. On the other hand, the CEO and co-founder of Andela Jeremy Johnson stated while being interviewed by LinkedIn:

“Celestine was the first software engineer at one of the most visible e-commerce sites in Africa and is exactly the kind of person we want coming to America and sharing his skills. Tapping into brilliant minds like Celestine’s is a huge help to many American companies who are struggling to find talent. We want to make sure that our team members around the world know what to prepare for and don’t get unnecessarily hassled for their work.”

Omin explained his ordeal in a LinkedIn post as well as on Twitter, where he was startled to receive support and following from a large number of unknown Twitter users who had had similar experiences when they arrived in the USA.

Some of the tweets that he received in response are as follows:

Source: LinkedIn | Image Source: Getty Images


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Waqas

Waqas Amir is a Milan-based cybersecurity journalist with a passion for covering latest happenings in cyber security and tech world. In addition to being the founder of this website, Waqas is also into gaming, reading and investigative journalism.