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U.S. Customs detained a software engineer — and given a test to prove he’s an engineer

software engineer detained

Celestine Omin was accustomed to undertaking hard engineering problems. Merely not the 2 that the border agent had placed in front of his face — or at least not presently, following having spent 24 hours restrained in an economy seat on Qatar Airways.

It was Sunday, February 26, & the 28-year-old software engineer had left his house in Lagos, Nigeria, to reach to the U.S. for the first time. It was a business trip. For the current 6 months, Omin had continued working for Andela, a startup that unites the top tech talent in Africa with employers in the United States Andela takes less than one percent of applicants into its curriculum & is supported by Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg & Priscilla Chan. For this distinct role, Omin was helping NYC-based fintech startup First Access build a JavaScript application for developing markets & had obtained a short-term visa.

After arriving, Omin waited for twenty minutes & then moved the front of the line, where a Customs & Border Protection officer questioned him a set of questions. It was here so Omin realized that the work might be challenging, but getting into the United States of America could now be difficult. No one at Andela had made him for the new certainty.

Following some minutes of questioning him regarding the job, the border agent attended Omin into a small room & told him to sit down. An extra hour passed earlier a different customs officer got in.

“Your visa says you are a software engineer. Is that correct?” the officer questioned Omin in a tone the engineer described as accusatory. When Omin told it was right, the officer showed him with a piece of paper & a pen and put him to answer the following questions:

  • “Write a function to check if a Binary Search Tree is balanced.”
  • “What is an abstract class, and why do you need it?”

To Omin — who now hadn’t slept for more than twenty-four hours — the questions appeared opaque & could have many answers. While he is an experienced software engineer with more than 7 years of experience, Omin next tells me that the questions seemed to him like somebody with no technical knowledge Googled something related, “Questions to ask a software engineer.”

(The United States Customs & Border Protection agency did not reply to multiple requests for judgment made by LinkedIn over phone & email by the time this epic went to press.)

With no meaning or guidelines on how to solve the questions, Omin, “too tired to even think,” sat down & analyzed his best. But when he gave his answers back after about ten minutes of work, the official said him his answers were incorrect. “No one would tell me why I was being questioned,” Omin informed me by phone. “Every single time I asked [the official] why he was asking me these questions, he hushed me … I wasn’t prepared for this. If I had known this was happening beforehand, I would have tried to prepare.”

“That is when I thought I would never get into the United States,” he told me with noticeable fear in his voice.

Omin tells me that the answers to the questions were technically right, but he assumes the customs official asking him wasn’t technically trained & couldn’t understand his answers. More time spent, & Omin began to mentally prepare to get on a plane back to Nigeria. Next — with little information — the official told him he was clear to go.

“He said, ‘Look, I am going to let you go, but you don’t look convincing to me,’” Omin said. “I didn’t say anything back. I just walked out.”

Omin later learned that United States Customs let him into the nation after officials called Andela & First Access to support him. Jeremy Johnson, the co-founder & CEO of Andela, told that his co-founder Christina Sass was the 1 to receive the call to help Omin. Just last year, Andela combined more than 100 technical workers from Africa with a short-term job in the United States. This is the 1st time that any of them have ever been cross-examined with questions specific to software engineering or their particular trade.

“Celestine was the first software engineer at one of the most visible e-commerce sites in Africa and is exactly the kind of person we want coming to America and sharing his skills,” said Johnson, who was named to LinkedIn’s Next Wave last year. “Tapping into brilliant minds like Celestine’s is a huge help to many American companies who are struggling to find talent.”

For each web developer seeking for work in the United States, there are about five open positions. That’s why startups like Andela survive in the 1st place: To combine foreign tech workers with openings here in the United States. But now with his associates having a difficult time getting into the nation to work, Johnson is bothered that he might have difficulties in the future. He has now reached out to Customs & Border Protection for additional explanation on why Omin’s work visa was flagged, but he hasn’t listened back yet.

“We seek to play by the rules, but we can’t respond to rules that are ad hoc,” Johnson said. “We want to make sure that our team members around the world know what to prepare for and don’t get unnecessarily hassled for their work.”

As for Omin, he tells the knowledge hasn’t changed how he thinks about the U.S. A proud Nigerian who newly became a father, he is excited to continue to apply his tech background to create growth for his nation. That stated, he was initially concerned about continuing public with his experience since he’s worried he’ll be joined on a watch list of passengers and have difficulty entering the United States in the future.

See Also: President Donald Trump has no plans to sign an executive order on H-1B visa: Report

“I have been trying to focus here, and I haven’t thought about what is going to happen when I go back to the airport,” he said. “I am coming here legally with good intentions, and I hope to continue this work.”


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