I've been denied entry to the US essentially for carrying my trainings material. Wow.
It appears I can't attend Blackhat this year. I was denied entry to the US for carrying trainings materials for the Blackhat trainings, and intending to hold these trainings as a private citizen instead of as a company.
After a 9-hour flight and a 4 1/2 hour interview I was put onto the next 9-hour flight back to Germany. Future trips to the US will be significantly more complicated as I can no longer go to the US on the visa waiver program.
A little background: For the last 7 years, I have attended / presented at the 'Blackhat Briefings', a security conference in the US. Prior to the conference itself, Blackhat conducts a trainings session, and for the past 6 years, I have given two days of trainings at these events. The largest part of the attendees of the trainings are US-Government related folks, mostly working on US National Security in some form. I have trained people from the DoD, DoE, DHS and most other agencies that come to mind.
Each time I came to the US, I told immigration that I was coming to the US to present at a conference and hold a trainings class. I was never stopped before.
This time, I had printed the materials for the trainings class in Germany and put them into my suitcase. Upon arrival in the US, I passed immigration, but was stopped in customs. My suitcase was searched, and I was asked about the trainings materials.
After answering that these are for the trainings I am conducting, an immigration officer was called, and I was put in an interview room.
For the next 4 1/2 hours I was interviewed about who exactly I am, why I am coming to the US, what the nature of my contract with Blackhat is, and why my trainings class is not performed by an American citizien. After 4 hours, it became clear that a decision had been reached that I was to be denied entry to the US, on the ground that since I am a private person conducting the trainings for Blackhat, I was essentially a Blackhat employee and would require an H1B visa to perform two days of trainings in the US.
Now, I am a full-time employee (and CEO) of a German company (startup with 5 people, self-financed), and the only reason why the agreement is between Blackhat and me instead of Blackhat and my company is that I founded the company long after I had started training for Blackhat and we never got around to changing it.
Had there been an agreement between my company and Blackhat, then my entry to the US would've been "German-company-sends-guy-to-US-to-perform-services", and everything would've been fine. The real problem is that the agreement was still between me as a person
After the situation became clear (around the 4th hour of being interviewed), I offered that the agreement between Blackhat and my company could be set up more or less instantaneously - as a CEO, I can sign an agreement on behalf of my company, and Blackhat would've signed immediately, too.
This would've spared each party of us a lot of hassle and paperwork. But apparently, since I had just tried to enter as a 'normal citizen' instead as an 'employee of a company', I could now not change my application. They would have to put me on the next flight back to Germany.
Ok, I thought, perhabs I will have to fly back to Germany, set up the agreement, and immediately fly back to the states - that would've still allowed me to hold the trainings and attend the conference, at the cost of crossing the Atlantic three times instead of once. But no such luck: Since I have been denied entry under the visa waiver programme, I can now never use this programme again. Instead I need to wait until the American consulate opens, and then apply for a business visa. I have not been able to determine how long this might take -- estimates from customs officials ranged from "4 days" to "more than 6 weeks".
All this seems pretty crazy to me. From the point that 2 days of trainings constitute work that requires an H1B visa, via the issue that everything could've been avoided if I had been allowed to set up the agreement with Blackhat immediately, to the fact that setting up the agreement once I am back in Germany and flying in again is not sufficient, all reeks of a bureacracy creating work for itself, at the expense of (US-)taxpayer money.
I will now begin the Quixotic quest to get a business visa to the US. Sigh. This sucks.