Techie Detained at JFK, Asked to Take Test to Prove His Profession

The engineer had secured a short term visa for USA but little did he know he would be met with this unexpected impediment. But before he could be allowed entry, he was asked to give a test proving he was a software engineer.

When he approached the Customs and Border Protection officer, he was asked a series of questions, following which the agent escorted Omin into a small room and an hour later, a different customs officer came in. He had a short-term visa to visit the US. The officer asked "Your visa says you are a software engineer".

"Write a function to check if a Binary Search Tree is balanced". He was helping fintech startup First Access, based in NY, develop a JavaScript application for emerging markets. These questions can have multiple answers but the officer who seemed not so technically trained couldn't understand.

According to Omin's LinkedIn post providing details of the incident, he works with Andela, a Nigerian startup backed by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan.

When asked to comment, a US Customs and Border Protection spokesperson refused to comment on Omin's case in particular, but said, "foreigners trying to enter the country bear the burden of proof to establish that they are clearly eligible and must overcome all grounds of inadmissibility".

With no context or guidelines on how to answer the questions, Omin, sat down and tried his best only to be told that the answers were wrong. The president plans to now finalise a new order limiting travel to the United States in the coming few days, after federal courts had blocked his administration's earlier travel restriction. "Every single time I asked [the official] why he was asking me these questions, he hushed me". Just when the frustrated Omin was convinced that he will he have to go back to his home country, an official told him that he is free to go. The officer apparently said, according to Mashable, "Look, I am going to let you go, but you don't look convincing to me". Andela isn't just any startup either, connecting African engineers with USA companies and having its series B funding round led by the Zuckerberg Chan Initiative.

While in detention, customs officials had contacted Andela to verify Omin's placement, LinkedIn reports.

"Tapping into brilliant minds like Celestine's is a huge help to many American companies who are struggling to find talent", Johnson told LinkedIn.

  • Leroy Wright