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Weird Immigration Stories September 23, 2006

Posted by gordonwatts in physics life.

JoAnne, over at Cosmic Varience, had a crazy one:

The customs agent stopped me dead in my tracks. He first asked, “Are you an American.” Obviously I answered “yes” straight-away. Then he asked, “OK, then, what is the square root of 98?”

I have nothing to match that. The best I’ve got is “How is that accelerator thingy going” in Chicago when I was returning from CERN once. And that was an immigration officer, not the customs agent. I mentioned this post to my wife and she reminded me of the time she visited the Perimeter Institute, a privately funding group studying string theory for a conference. Her immigration officer asked her, upon entry into the US, “So, what do you think about Chaos Theory?”



1. jenn - September 23, 2006

It’s not exactly my story to tell, but my supervisor got turned away from the US border (en-route to his sabbatical) when applying for a visa because “what does a Doctor of Philosophy know about physics?”.

2. dorigo - September 23, 2006

That seem more like a pun than a real story, Jenn.
What happened to me is that once, arriving in Chicago, they got suspicious because I said my trip was partly for business and partly for vacation. I thus got the privilege of an interview. And the guy wanted to know whether we could do a bomb with the antiprotons. He also did ask me one trivia thing about physics, just to check I was indeed a particle physicist: “what is e=mc^2 ?”. And I had to answer that. I think he was satisfied with my answer, something I am quite proud of to this day.

3. jenn - September 23, 2006

I’m completely serious. He had to drive the hour back home and order a copy of his transcript.

To get a work visa in the US as a Canadian you have to show proof that you have an offer of employment and proof that you have the qualifications required – ie. one’s diploma. His just said he had a PhD, and didn’t list in what and so the immigrations officer didn’t believe he had the appropriate qualifications (my supervisor is East Indian and also will often be asked “when was the last time you were in the Middle East?”). People with Latin diplomas have to get them translated by a government recognised Latin translator before they are accepted.

4. Dave Bacon - September 23, 2006

I always have to remind myself that the border agents are hired to not have a sense of humor. For example when going to Canada they almost always ask me first “What is occupation?” To which I reply “Physicist.” And then they ask me “Do you have any weapons in the car.” Physicist, weapons…. To which I have to bite my tongue really hard and not say “Sure, I’ve got a nuclear bomb in my trunk.”

5. Dave Bacon - September 23, 2006

Oh, and in quantum computing you have to be very careful not to say that you work on quantum cryptography or that quantum computers can break public key cryptosystems. Especially if you are visiting Israel (multiple colleages have had to give parts of their talks before being allowed into Israel.)

6. Wait. I Do Have A Story « Life as a Physicist - September 24, 2006

[…] All the comments that have rolled in on Immigration Story post remind me that I did participate in a good one. Only I was so young that I don’t remember it. In shades of what my wife and I did with the J-Mo and Canada, my parents took me to Canada too. On return they discovered that they needed a birth certificate: something that was safely stashed in the house back in Boston. My Dad had to drive all the way back to Boston, get the certificate and drive all the way back to the boarder. My mother was left to deal with me (probably screaming the whole time too). […]

7. gordonwatts - September 24, 2006

Jenn — I can totally see that (despite T’s comments!). So many things in our gov’t and our society, and our education system make no sense. If you try to apply common sense to tell when someone is pulling a fast one you are bound to mess up.

T: e=mc^2. Huh. An interview? Nice. Glad it wasn’t too rough. My last time into Canada they decided I warented one as well. They even knew my family had been up several weeks ago, driving. These guys seem to know everything.

Dave: I’ve been fighting that stereotype for years. Usually it happens, thank goodness, at parties. I’d like to think I’ve reducated a small fraction of the graphic artists in downtown Chicago. They may not totally know what I do, but they know that phycists do more than build bombs. 🙂 And I didn’t know that about Canada and crptosystems. If that a US or a Canada thing?

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