Blackhat 2007 speaker denied entry to U.S.A.

Blackhat 2007 speaker denied entry to U.S.A.
Blackhat 2007 speaker denied entry to U.S.A. 

By halvar.flake
July 29, 2007

I've been denied entry to the US essentially for carrying my trainings 
material. Wow.

It appears I can't attend Blackhat this year. I was denied entry to the 
US for carrying trainings materials for the Blackhat trainings, and 
intending to hold these trainings as a private citizen instead of as a 

After a 9-hour flight and a 4 1/2 hour interview I was put onto the next 
9-hour flight back to Germany. Future trips to the US will be 
significantly more complicated as I can no longer go to the US on the 
visa waiver program.

A little background: For the last 7 years, I have attended / presented 
at the 'Blackhat Briefings', a security conference in the US. Prior to 
the conference itself, Blackhat conducts a trainings session, and for 
the past 6 years, I have given two days of trainings at these events. 
The largest part of the attendees of the trainings are US-Government 
related folks, mostly working on US National Security in some form. I 
have trained people from the DoD, DoE, DHS and most other agencies that 
come to mind.

Each time I came to the US, I told immigration that I was coming to the 
US to present at a conference and hold a trainings class. I was never 
stopped before.

This time, I had printed the materials for the trainings class in 
Germany and put them into my suitcase. Upon arrival in the US, I passed 
immigration, but was stopped in customs. My suitcase was searched, and I 
was asked about the trainings materials. After answering that these are 
for the trainings I am conducting, an immigration officer was called, 
and I was put in an interview room. For the next 4 1/2 hours I was 
interviewed about who exactly I am, why I am coming to the US, what the 
nature of my contract with Blackhat is, and why my trainings class is 
not performed by an American citizien. After 4 hours, it became clear 
that a decision had been reached that I was to be denied entry to the 
US, on the ground that since I am a private person conducting the 
trainings for Blackhat, I was essentially a Blackhat employee and would 
require an H1B visa to perform two days of trainings in the US.

Now, I am a full-time employee (and CEO) of a German company (startup 
with 5 people, self-financed), and the only reason why the agreement is 
between Blackhat and me instead of Blackhat and my company is that I 
founded the company long after I had started training for Blackhat and 
we never got around to changing it.

Had there been an agreement between my company and Blackhat, then my 
entry to the US would've been 
"German-company-sends-guy-to-US-to-perform-services", and everything 
would've been fine. The real problem is that the agreement was still 
between me as a person and Blackhat.

After the situation became clear (around the 4th hour of being 
interviewed), I offered that the agreement between Blackhat and my 
company could be set up more or less instantaneously - as a CEO, I can 
sign an agreement on behalf of my company, and Blackhat would've signed 
immediately, too. This would've spared each party of us a lot of hassle 
and paperwork. But apparently, since I had just tried to enter as a 
'normal citizen' instead as an 'employee of a company', I could now not 
change my application. They would have to put me on the next flight back 
to Germany.

Ok, I thought, perhabs I will have to fly back to Germany, set up the 
agreement, and immediately fly back to the states - that would've still 
allowed me to hold the trainings and attend the conference, at the cost 
of crossing the Atlantic three times instead of once. But no such luck: 
Since I have been denied entry under the visa waiver programme, I can 
now never use this programme again. Instead I need to wait until the 
American consulate opens, and then apply for a business visa. I have not 
been able to determine how long this might take -- estimates from 
customs officials ranged from "4 days" to "more than 6 weeks".

All this seems pretty crazy to me. From the point that 2 days of 
trainings constitute work that requires an H1B visa, via the issue that 
everything could've been avoided if I had been allowed to set up the 
agreement with Blackhat immediately, to the fact that setting up the 
agreement once I am back in Germany and flying in again is not 
sufficient, all reeks of a bureacracy creating work for itself, at the 
expense of (US-)taxpayer money.

I will now begin the Quixotic quest to get a business visa to the US. 
Sigh. This sucks.


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