Meetings & Conventions: The Law and the Planner January
The Law & the Planner
BY JONATHAN HOWE
Hassles at Immigration
Why are business travelers being turned away at the U.S.
A few years ago, I received a frantic call from
a client whose speaker was stopped at Canadian Immigration. When
asked why he was entering Canada, the speaker honestly said he was
there on business -- in fact, he was scheduled to speak in six
cities. He was promptly put on the next plane back to the Unites
States because he did not have a work permit. Shortly thereafter, a
client who was bringing a Canadian speaker south faced the same
problem at the hands of U.S. Immigration.
What's going on here? Aren't we friendly neighbors? Yes, with a
few caveats. On paper, international developments look good --
NAFTA, Open Skies, Shared Border Access... But try to get
exhibition materials into or out of another country, and that's
another matter altogether.
The reality is, even longtime allies grapple with the conflict
of promoting business interests while also protecting the domestic
labor market. It's a challenge all countries face. And, it's a
dilemma meeting professionals need to be prepared for when events
-- or participants -- cross national borders.
Not too long ago I attended a meeting in Canada. While there, I
noticed an article in TheGlobe and Mail, one of
Canada's nationwide newspapers, headlined "Executives Hassled at
Border." It went on to describe numerous situations in which
Canadian and American business travelers were hassled, delayed and
denied border crossing for less-than-nefarious activities -- such
as attending a banquet. One top business recruiter was sent back by
customs officials in Canada when he was on his way to recruit an
individual for a possible opportunity in the United States.
Similarly, a recent article in The New York Times noted
worldwide difficulties for those entering and leaving the States.
People are being detained, denied entry and sent home.
Clearly, immigration and customs officials are getting tougher, for
good reasons ranging from drug smuggling to exceeding duty free
limits on goods purchased. But why, in this day and age, are we
finding the opportunity to go from Canada to the United States and
vice versa much more difficult for legitimate business reasons? I
don't know for sure, but I do have some suspicions.
Already in place in the United States is the Illegal Immigration
Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act. This recently passed law,
which was a response by Congress to pleas concerning so-called
illegal aliens, ostensibly has created a border crisis between the
United States, Mexico and Canada. Some believe the law will require
Mexicans and Canadians to obtain a visa to enter the United States.
Legislation is being proposed to make it clear that such would not
be the case for Canadians entering the United States. Meanwhile,
the net result of the law seems to be a degree of retaliation by
The only government agencies before which you are guilty until you
prove yourself innocent are the Internal Revenue Service and
Immigration and Customs. Under Section 110 of the Act, an automated
entry/exit control system is to be in place recording the departure
of every "alien" against the date of arrival. Those who exceed the
period of authorized stay may be prohibited from re-entry into the
United States for five years. If they are found to be in violation
of any other requirement, they may be banned as well for five
years. There is no court trial or appeal procedure. The
determination is made by immigration officials at the port of
entry. Technically, even database errors could foul up meeting
participants from Canada or elsewhere.
The issues for the meeting professional are complex. In short,
you must have up-to-date information about entry into an
international destination and/or requirements of attendees coming
to your event from other countries. For specific concerns regarding
our northern neighbor, contact U.S. and Canadian Immigration
Meeting professionals can head off problems by providing exit
and entry information to attendees -- and particularly
professionals who will have compensated roles at any event.
A rule to remember: Deceit is never the answer. Participants
should be informed that, regardless of any hardship it may create,
they must tell the absolute truth at border crossings. After all,
the lie that gets them across the border for one meeting might also
prohibit them from entering the country for years to come. *
Jonathan T. Howe, Esq., is a senior partner in the
Chicago and Washington, D.C., law firm of Howe & Hutton, Ltd.,
which specializes in meetings, travel and hospitality
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