What Happens When You Accidentally Tell US Immigration You’re a Terrorist?

Whenever I’ve been involved in security clearance investigations there have been a number of questions about communism, as though the process hasn’t been updated since the 80’s. And instead of actually investigating they just ask if the person is disloyal to the United States.

This always struck me funny because it’s like airport security. The number one way you know someone isn’t a threat is if they’re talking about bombs going through the checkpoint. Anyone trying to do something awful is trying to get away with it, not announce it.

The US have a ‘visa waiver’ process which is more or less still a visa. Eligible passengers fill out an ESTA, Electronic System for Travel Authorization, to seek permission to travel.

That form has a question, “Do you seek to engage in or have you ever engaged in terrorist activities, espionage, sabotage, or genocide?”

No terrorist in history has ever answered ‘yes’ to this question. Anyone who answers yes has clearly done so by accident.

A 29 year old terminal cancer patient though found out that the U.S. doesn’t see it that way.

  • Her ESTA was denied
  • She had to travel to the US embassy in London and go through multiple rounds of interviews (the visa appointment cost over $400)
  • She had to push her trip out a month at a cost of over $1000. The visa was going to take longer to process than she had before her trip. The Embassy said ‘change your holiday’ which is easier said than done because she gets “scanned every 12 weeks” for her cancer.


Copyright: andreyuu / 123RF Stock Photo

So what happened?

Mandie said she first attempted to fill in the form on her tablet, but it had crashed – so she tried again at work the next day.

She said: “I believe I ticked ‘no’ and then when I have scrolled down to click confirm, I think it has nudged and moved. That’s the story I’m sticking to.

“A lot of people have said ‘how on earth could you do that?’ but to me I’ve done it really easily.”

According to the US Embassy this was “the worst box you could have ticked.” She thought “because it was a genuine error it would be quite an easy fix” but… not so much.

It remains to be seen whether she’ll be on watch lists, or subject to harassment on arrival or going through US security procedures.

(HT: Tyler)

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. The question has always given me a bit of a giggle… if I remember correctly it was on the form even before 911. The only reason I can think of is that if one is found engaged in any form of terrorism-related activity, the charge of ‘lying to a federal law-enforcement agency/agent’ is automatically brought against the said person and this would be enough to “keep” him/her while a more-thorough investigation is undertaken.

  2. The jumping box is a common occurance on many websites . It happened to me last week when the chosen item on a drop down menu jumped to the next one down.

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