Nigerian Engineer Detained At JFK Airport, Had To Prove He Was An Engineer

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Donald Trump’s temporary immigration ban and the accompanying security procedures for travelers from outside the U.S. have been making headlines since they were put in place.

On Sunday, a Nigerian engineer, 28-year-old Celestine Omin travelling from Lagos to the U.S on business was a victim of the heavy security measures as he was held by the Customs and Border Protection office.
Omin, who worked as a software engineer at Andela faced the unwelcoming reception when he deplaned at John F. Kennedy Airport as he was given a test to prove he was actually a software engineer. A LinkedIn post detailing Omin’s challenging experience explained that upon landing in New York after spending 24 miserable hours on a Qatar Airways flight, he was given some trouble about the short-term visa he obtained for his trip.

After a few minutes of grilling him about the job, the border agent escorted Omin into a small room and told him to sit down. Another hour passed before a different customs officer came in.

“Your visa says you are a software engineer. Is that correct?” the officer asked Omin in a tone the engineer described as accusatory. When Omin said it was right, the officer presented him with a piece of paper and a pen and told him to answer the questions.

  • “Write a function to check if a Binary Search Tree is balanced.”
  • “What is an abstract class, and why do you need it.”

According to Omin, the questions seemed opaque and could have multiple answers. While he is a skilled software engineer with more than seven years of experience, Omin explained that the questions looked to him like someone with no technical background googled something like, “Questions to ask a software engineer.”

“No one would tell me why I was being questioned. Every single time I asked [the official] why he was asking me these questions, he hushed me … I wasn’t prepared for this. If I had known this was happening beforehand, I would have tried to prepare,” Omin told LinkedIn.

“That is when I thought I would never get into the United States.” He said.

As Omin sat, convinced he would be denied access into the United States, an official suddenly told him he was free to go. Without any further explanation, the official apparently said, “Look, I am going to let you go, but you don’t look convincing to me.” 

Omin was in the US to help NYC-based fintech startup First Access create a JavaScript application for emerging markets and had secured a short-term joint B1/B2 visa and he learned later that U.S. Customs allowed him into the country after customs officials called both Andela and First Access to corroborate his story.

 

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