by Robert McGarvey
Here’s what the US government is telling foreign travelers to the US, business travelers very much included: Just stay home.
The numbers of foreign arrivals are plummeting, a reality that long predates the coronavirus scare. Here’s a Washington Post story from July: More people are traveling the world than ever. But the number coming to America is dropping.
Of course coronavirus is making matters worse but know this: even when the virus is tamed, foreign travelers will stay clear of the US. And this means business travelers – maybe business travelers in particular – who will stay away from trade shows, expos, conferences, even in person sales calls.
Why? “Crossing U.S. borders has never been easy, but today’s business travelers face an unprecedented range of issues amidst a constantly-shifting legal and regulatory landscape. Within the past month alone, the U.S. government has rolled out three new sets of travel restrictions: an expansion of the ‘Trump Travel Ban,’ a so-called ‘birth tourism’ ban, and a travel ban designed to contain the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus from China,” said Rebecca Bernhard, a partner at the international law firm Dorsey & Whitney specializing in U.S. immigration and labor and employment law.
Bernhard continued: “Travelers must be ready for increasingly-hostile questioning from U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents about the nature of their travel, itinerary while in the U.S., and whether their planned activities violate U.S. work authorization laws. Without fluency in facts, travelers can be refused entry and even permanently banned from the United States.”
You read right: she said hostile questioning. And if a traveler fails the quiz, or worse still, gets annoyed by the questioning, expect border delays to extend. That traveler may even be turned away.
Welcome to the US, baby.
How did we get this hostile? Here’s the big change, per Bernhard: “Travelers should be prepared to face ‘law enforcement’ culture at the border.” She added that we all need to expect this “enforcement-oriented environment due to President Trump’s administrative priorities.”
International travelers need to know you may be quizzed about your travels – and you need to know the details, warned Bernhard. I will confess that I have often traveled and not known where I was going to be the next day until I checked my itinerary. What did it matter? I was trying to be “Be Here Now” and in many cases, a “handler” simply told me where to go and so I went. But apparently it may no longer be good enough for foreign travelers at the border. Know your travel details.
Also know that your electronics are fair game, said Bernhard. The CBP personnel may want to search your devices – that means your phone and laptop – and your best bet is to carry little or no data cross border. Leave it in the cloud. Bring a burner phone.
This is sounding like a lot of hassle? You bet. And where there’s hassle we often just don’t go and that’s what smart foreign executives are deciding when a possible US trip looms on their schedule: “Send the junior person, boss. I’m too busy to go.”
How did we get to be a place to be avoided?
What’s this to you, you’re a US citizen? Listen up. First off, Bernhard warned that “4th amendment evaporates at the border – most normal rights are suspended, even for U.S. citizens.”
That also means your electronics too, which CBP may seek to search even if you are a US citizen. Yes, a judge has ruled that searches of a US citizen’s electronics without a “reasonable suspicion” are not Constitutional. But we are still discovering what amounts to a “reasonable” suspicion. Me, I am continuing to leave most data home which of course also is a good idea when traveling into most other countries (China, Israel, Russia may top the list of places to never bring data). My work is in the cloud, I travel with a cheap, old Chromebook and I now have a burner phone with little data on board.
But here’s my biggest worry about how our border policies will impact me: We are treated at the borders of other countries as we treat their citizens at our borders. Don’t be surprised when on your next trip to Singapore or Shanghai or Tokyo or Sydney you are subjected to the third degree. It’s noting personal. Just payback for how we have treated them.
This has always been true. As we treat others so shall we be treated and, right now, we are treating foreign nationals miserably at the border. It will be likewise for us. Instant karma.