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How booking with a travel agent might have saved this Aussie from a stint in prison

Like many Aussies before him, Victorian student Jack applied for a visa waiver for his trip to the US. His plan was to then travel onto Mexico and South America. 


But after disembarking his Jetstar flight to Honolulu, Jack was refused entry after a US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) determined he had not booked onward travel beyond Mexico, The Guardian reported.


Those who enter the US on a visa waiver need to have booked either a return flight or onward travel to a country that doesn’t border the US (so not Mexico or Canada).


According to the Guardian, Jack was put in an interrogation room with no access to internet. Jack said that an airline worker offered his phone so that Jack could book a flight from Mexico to Panama but he had insufficient funds in his debit account and the lack of internet meant he could not transfer money from his savings account. 


Before he could try a cheaper flight, a CBP officer told the airline worker to take his phone back. 


The officer then questioned if Jack had enough funds to support himself in the US, the transcript of the interrogation (as seen by the Guardian) revealed. 


Jack was ultimately denied entry to the US because he did not “possess a ticket, valid for at least one year to any foreign place/port other than a contiguous territory or adjacent island unless they permanently reside there”.


“You are inadmissible for admission into the United States … because of your inability to overcome the presumption of an intended immigrant. You have no ties or equities to your home country or sufficient funds to support yourself for your intended period of stay,” he was told at the end of the interrogation.


Six hours after landing, Jack was taken to the Federal Detention Center in Honolulu. He was strip searched and says he was placed in a cell with another prisoner who had smeared blood and faeces on the wall. 


“Once the police dropped me off, you’re in a prison, so the guards and inmates there have no idea what you’re there for, they just assume this kid has done something bad,” he said. 


“They treat you like a criminal, they treat you like shit.”


Jack spent about 30 hours in the detention centre, before being put on a flight to Sydney. He says the rule should be made more clear. 


“Obviously it should be added to the Smartraveller website, because everyone goes there to check the rules. I don’t want anyone else going through what I went through, it’s just not right,” he said.


A CBP spokesperson told Guardian Australia by email that the agency “regrets any inconvenience or unpleasantness a passenger may have experienced during his/her CBP processing”.


“Under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), applicants must have a round-trip ticket that would transport the traveler out of the United States to any other foreign port or place as long as the trip does not terminate in contiguous territory or an adjacent island; except that the round-trip ticket may transport the traveler to contiguous territory or an adjacent island, if the traveler is a resident of the country of destination,” the spokesperson said.


“In addition, applicants should be able to demonstrate access to sufficient funds to support themselves for the intended period of their stay and to proof [sic] sufficient ties or equities to the home country.”



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Published: 8 June 2022

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