As the Windsor Star reports, five women from that Southern Ontario city were fingerprinted, photographed and denied entry into the U.S. while heading for a yoga course that would help them gain credentials to become instructors. U.S. border regulations require foreign visitors to obtain a student visa for vocational training, which is how the yoga course is classified.
One of the women first told border officials that she was just going shopping before admitting she was also visiting for a course. As a result, she has been barred from entering the U.S. for five years. “I want to alert Canadians that whatever necessary paperwork needs to be done, they should do so,” Michelle Lam told the Star. Lam was patted down and detained for six hours, part of that time in a cell.
U.S. border officials are particularly sensitive about the possibility of Canadians taking work away from Americans. So even people travelling to volunteer for Habitat for Humanity, for example, must bring a letter of invitation or other documentation.
Chief Ron Smith of U.S. Customs and Border Protection told the Star that while some Canadians may not know the rules, the regulations are clear and not new. “If they’re coming over for pleasure, I hope they enjoy it,” he said. “When someone comes in to volunteer, they have to be able to prove to the officer that they are a member of, or have a commitment to, a particular recognized religious or non-profit charitable organization. We have to make sure there is no U.S. salary.”
While the rules may not be new, stricter enforcement may be part of heightened anxiety about terrorist attacks. And it can go both ways – U.S. media has featured several reports of Canadian border officials turning back visitors for minor offences committed decades ago.
A helpful site for Canadians travelling to the United States is www.voyage.gc.ca.
If you want to hear what happens when you bring a little attitude to your U.S. border crossing, check out this audio recording which purports to be (and sure sounds like) a confrontation between a Canadian couple heading for outlet shopping in Niagara Falls, New York and a series of U.S. border officials.
Photo Credit: kuriputosu