Denied entry

 – Sorry, you’re not allowed entry to the US on your ESTA.

The lady who delivered this message to me this early Monday morning, worked behind the check-in counter at the Arlanda airport. I was there, trying to check-in to my two-leg trip to San Francisco to the Mozilla “all hands” meeting of the summer of 2017. My chance for a while ahead to meet up with colleagues from all around the world.

This short message prevented me from embarking on one journey, but instead took me on another.

Returning home

I was in a bit of a shock by this treatment really. I mean, I wasn’t treated particularly bad or anything but just the fact that they downright refused to take me on for unspecified reasons wasn’t easy to swallow. I sat down for a few moments trying to gather my thoughts on what to do next. I then sent a few tweets out expressing my deep disappointment for what happened, emailed my manager and some others at Mozilla about what happened and that I can’t come to the meeting and then finally walked out the door again and traveled back home.

This tweet sums up what I felt at the time:

Then the flood

That Monday passed with some casual conversations with people of what I had experienced, and then…

Someone posted to hacker news about me. That post quickly rose to the top position and it began. My twitter feed suddenly got all crazy with people following me and retweeting my rejection tweets from yesterday. Several well-followed people retweeted me and that caused even more new followers and replies.

By the end of the Tuesday, I had about 2000 new followers and twitter notifications that literally were flying by at a high speed.

I was contacted by writers and reporters. The German Linux Magazine was first out to post about me, and then did the same. I talked to Kate Conger on Gizmodo who wrote Mozilla Employee Denied Entry to the United States. The Register wrote about me. I was for a moment considered for a TV interview, but I think they realized that we had too little facts to actually know why I was denied so maybe it wasn’t really that TV newsworthy.

These articles of course helped boosting my twitter traffic even more.

In the flood of responses, the vast majority were positive and supportive of me. Lots of people highlighted the role of curl and acknowledged that my role in that project has been beneficial for quite a number of internet related software in the world. A whole bunch of the responses offered to help me in various ways. The one most highlighted is probably this one from Microsoft’s Chief Legal Officer Brad Smith:

I also received a bunch of emails. Some of them from people who offered help – and I must say I’m deeply humbled and grateful by the amount of friends I apparently have and the reach this got.

Some of the emails also echoed the spirit of some of the twitter replies I got: quite a few Americans feel guilty, ashamed or otherwise apologize for what happened to me. However, I personally do not at all think of this setback as something that my American friends are behind. And I have many.

Mozilla legal

Tuesday evening I had a phone call with our (Mozilla’s) legal chief about my situation and I helped to clarify exactly what I had done, what I’ve been told and what had happened. There’s a team working now to help me sort out what happened and why, and what I and we can do about it so that I don’t get to experience this again the next time I want to travel to the US. People are involved both on the US as well as on the Swedish side of things.

Personally I don’t have any plans to travel to the US in the near future so there’s no immediate rush. I had already given up attending this Mozilla all-hands.


Mark Nottingham sent an email on the QUIC working group’s mailing list, and here follows two selected sections from it:

You may have seen reports that someone who participates in this work was recently refused entry to the US*, for unspecified reasons.

We won’t hold any further interim meetings in the US, until there’s a change in this situation. This means that we’ll either need to find suitable hosts in Canada or Mexico, or our meeting rotation will need to change to be exclusively Europe and Asia.

I trust I don’t actually need to point out that I am that “someone” and again I’m impressed and humbled by the support and actions in my community.

Now what?

I’m now (end of Wednesday, 60 hours since the check-in counter) at 3000 more twitter followers than what I started out with this Monday morning. This turned out to be a totally crazy week and it has severally impacted my productivity. I need to get back to write code, I’m getting behind!

I hope we’ll get some answers soon as to why I was denied and what I can do to fix this for the future. When I get that, I will share all the info I can with you all.

So, back to work!

Thanks again

Before I forget: thank you all. Again. With all my heart. The amount of love I’ve received these last two days is amazing.

25 thoughts on “Denied entry”

  1. I know the feeling from being denied.
    I hope this situation ends soon and everybody can travel without obstacles and freely all around the world.

    1. While the US President is, Trump makes no sense to ride in this dictatorial country in any case.

      Patent madness, violation of the Swedish freedom, and other crazy things.

      1. The No-Fly list ain’t a trump invention, it has been around for a while and they almost banned people on it from owning guns.

        The thing about it is that you don’t know how to get on it, who is on it, and how you get off it, all you know is you don’t get a refund when you are at the airport.

  2. The standard thing that would happen now is that you simply need a visa to enter. They give out multiple-entry business purpose visas that are valid for a number of years. Getting one is a PITA (at least it is in the Netherlands, but I assume the process is similar over there), and you will likely always be marked for secondary checks upon entry, but it could be worth it.

    The reason they gave me was ‘too much travel’ at first and then ‘we don’t owe you an explanation, we can deny the visa waiver for any reason’.

    I have since found that I can do most of my productive work and travel while avoiding the US, by focusing my efforts on organizations that aren’t based there (and skipping those meetings that are held there), but of course YMMV and this depends heavily on circumstances.

    Also this may be of little comfort, but at least this happened before you got on the plane and not after a 9-hour flight :p (at which point, since the esta has been denied, you are placed in prison if there is no direct flight back, or at least that’s what they told me at the time).

  3. I’m hearing a lot of this kind of thing lately… a number of my colleagues are finding they now need to get a visa for work-related travel to the US, where previously they could have entered under a visa waiver.

    And getting a visa is a such a slow process that it’s hurting our ability to support clients by sending staff to help troubleshoot their problems… we do what we can with remote access, but that’s often not much…

  4. As an American, I for one hope many groups decide to move their events (and the revenue generated by them) to other countries. Let other countries benefit, and let America slowly realize that the Trump philosophy fails. World opinion of America continues to drop . . . .

  5. AFAIK even a visa does not guarantee entry, they can still turn you back at the port of entry. Meaning after the flight. In any case it must be a very unpleasant experience.

    1. Hey now, there are more countries in America than just the United States! America is NOT a country, it’s a Continent!

    2. I don’t recall America ever being two continents. It’s one contiguous land mass from the North to the South. The point though is that the United States is not America, just like France is not Europe or Zimbabwe is not Africa.

  6. People are not denied that don’t have a reason to be denied for.

    I cherish the efforts of Immigration workers/ Visa workers to keep my country safe. Not to say that you are necessarily a dangerous threat, but if you have been denied, I highly doubt the smart move is to post a blog article whining about it.

    Now the world knows that something in your record is bad enough to keep you out, and I’m glad they caught it before letting you in.

    I already don’t use Mozilla products because there are dangerous deviants that work there and I don’t really trust large corporations (ie non-profits that aren’t really non-profit) to respect my devices, but now I think I will move what little curl usage I have to some other platform.

    You have shamed yourself, Daniel.

  7. I’m sorry you have to deal with the added stress of people like Yph Er. Some people do not understand that complex systems, even our own cherished government systems, need to be debugged when they reach error states.

  8. This royally sucks. I’ve always worried about being denied unexpectedly at the border, especially after having paid big bucks for airfare and a place to stay. Most of the countries I’ve traveled to haven’t required a Visa from the US. If the US keeps acting the way they have the last several months, I imagine this is bound to change.

    On the plus side, maybe it means I’ll get to visit with you that much sooner! (Maybe after you’ve recovered from all this attention, and from catching up on code. 😉 )

    Sara and I are certainly enjoying the sights in Stockholm. Spent yesterday at Storkyrkan and Medeltidsmuseet, and generally just wandering around Gamla Stan. I imagine we’ll do similarly today, probably explore more of Gamla Stan the next several days, with visits to nearby museums. 🙂

    1. while the current administration certainly won’t be moving things in a more positive direction, this has been happening since way before they took office (it was happening during Obama as well)

  9. I’m sorry to read about what happened to you at the border, and that you couldn’t attend the all hands this time (I could also not attend but to save myself a similar encounter mostly.)

    I’ve had a number of bad experiences with the US immigration entering and leaving the US before for Mozilla travels unfortunately (even though they never went that far with me). I always try to remind myself that these aren’t personal, but they can be extremely frustrating since you almost never receive any explanation for why you are being treated like that. It is extremely sad to see this happen to more colleagues.

    I do hope this wouldn’t cause any complications for your future US trips.

  10. Now if you could only turn some of those new Twitter followers into code contributors…

      1. Hey contacted both my senators. Note this is likely a ETSA error/ or a over-zealous agent that reviewed you.
        They randomly screen ETSA manually, wouldn’t be surprised if low level agent google you, seen “hacker” on your website and thought OMG he is criminal hacker.
        Really don’t like people conflating this with Trump, it prevents addressing issues in ETSA that have been there for years. Just watch “Border Patrol” on netflix.
        ETSA I am pretty sure is completely random in its checks,which I think someone like you that is basically an O-1 visa, should have less likely chance of being manually screened.

  11. I’m afraid Yph Er is correct.

    Mistakes happen, and perhaps your case is one, but generally there is a reason why people are denied. It could be something you are unaware of, such as having a friend who happens to be coordinating trips to fight in Syria. It could be something you aren’t telling us. Given the changes happening in your own country, perhaps just being from there is enough to raise a red flag. You can be sure that people in the USA are aware of Ebba Akerlund, and of course if “Swedish” people tend to do terrible things then you get lumped in with them. The USA has no way to be sure that you aren’t planning to drive a truck of peace. Unlike your country, the USA has decided that many outsiders simply aren’t worth the risk. Probably the decision is wrong in your case, but we can’t tell what secret plans you might have, and again there may be something (friend building bombs) that is known to the government but not to you.

    1. Did you really, seriously lump all “Swedish people” together?
      Did I read that right?

  12. I always managed to avoid going to the US, and your unfortunate experience is not going to diminish my unwillingness to go there. Daniel, see the positive side of things, you were denied entrance and were allowed to get back home. It could have been much worse, you could have been allowed to go there and denied from coming back instead. As you see, I don’t trust their laws more than a kernel exhibiting an “Oops” in dmesg…

  13. Hey Daniel, DHS is probably using cURL to collect info on travelers. Maybe just a bug in your code that caused this. 😉

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