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No stop list, but crimes will prevent entry to US

The US does not maintain a “stop list” barring Bermudians convicted of drug offences and other crimes.

Nor does media coverage of court cases cause anyone to be blocked from travel to the Island's closest neighbour.

Explaining that conviction alone is the disqualifying factor, US Consul Adam Vogelzang stressed that the US welcomes legitimate travellers — and that Bermuda residents who fall afoul of US law can still apply for a waiver on their visa ineligibility.

The bottom line: “What happens in Vegas does not stay in Vegas,” Mr Vogelzang warned.

Individuals make themselves ineligible, he said, for convictions involving even small quantities of drugs, theft or fraud, or for violating US Immigration law. Crimes such as arson or assault also apply.

Asked how the US obtains the details on prospective travellers, the Consul told

The Royal Gazette that while ineligibilities do not necessarily show up automatically on a screen, “it would be correct to say that such information is readily available to US authorities at ports of entry”.

Unlike Bermuda, which maintains a list of barred foreign nationals, Mr Vogelzang said that as far as the US is concerned: “There's actually no such thing as a stop list.”

He added: “I understand Bermuda does have a stop list, which may be where the term originates. But there's no stop list.”

Ineligibilities are the same around the world, he said, “whether you're Bermudian, British, Canadian, Mexican or Jamaican”.

Drug use convictions comprise the majority of Bermuda's ineligibilities, which include travel connections as well as entry to the US.

The ban is for life, and even blocks access to US hospital treatment.

However, Mr Vogelzang said, waivers can be requested at the Consulate, which examines applicants individually.

Asked what factors work in an applicant's favour, he said: “It's all case by case, and I can't get specific. For the waiver, we look at the recency and severity of the offence, the number of offences, evidence of rehabilitation and so on.”

The Consul spoke out on the issue to warn young Bermudians that, while there may be certain exceptions for minors, bad decisions could have lifetime consequences.

“We advise young people to stay out of trouble for this reason. We have some people who have committed crimes and can't get medical treatment or go on vacations with their family.”

Added Mr Vogelzang: “The US welcomes legitimate travellers. We encourage people who have an ineligibility to apply for a visa and take care of it now so they can travel when the need arises.”

There is no penalty for checking eligibility status, either by asking online or directly at the Consulate.

“If you don't know, you might get turned away at the airport,” Mr Vogelzang said. “Be on the safe side. If you've been convicted, apply for a visa. We have had people who thought they had an ineligibility and it turned out they didn't.

“We can have a discussion of the crime that led to the ineligibility. That's when we open up the sealed police record. I will go through it and maybe ask some questions about it. There may be questions on the circumstances of the crime and why you did it — if it's drug related, for example, the quantity of the drugs involved. We're looking at things like the recency of the offence, the number of offences, the severity.”

Even in a medical emergency, an ineligible traveller must request a waiver, and present a police report. The Consulate can ask for expedited processing from the Department of Homeland Security — but nothing is guaranteed.

Added Mr Vogelzang: “Right now, because worldwide there has been a surge in visa applications to the US, it's taking around four months to process. All waivers have to go through one office. Because of the four-month backlog, we're telling people to apply early, preferably five months before travel.

“After that, you have to come back to the Consulate with your passport. In the past, Homeland Security were approving waivers for ten years. Now the maximum is five. And for many who are ineligible, it may be one year.”

Travel bans to the US are of concern to both governments, he said.

“We always try to get the message out to young people,” Mr Vogelzang added. “You have got to think in the long-term.”

Names are not gleaned from court reports in media

By Elizabeth Roberts and Jonathan Bell

A US diplomat refuted the suspicion of Bermuda's Senior Magistrate that people end up on the stop list because their cases are reported in the media.

Earlier this month, Archibald Warner suggested the press should not be allowed to print the names of defendants issued with conditional discharges in drug possession cases.

A conditional discharge means no criminal conviction is recorded against the person's name in Bermuda, as long as they stay out of trouble. However, the Magistrate said he believes the US authorities still put people on the stop list, barring them from entering the States, as a result of publicity over such cases.

He made the remarks during the case of a 19-year-old who was caught with 0.64 grams of cannabis when he was searched by police in central Hamilton last December. He had no previous convictions and, having heard he is studying at college in the US, Mr Warner meted out a six-month conditional discharge.

Defence lawyer Elizabeth Christopher — who was in court but not representing the teen — suggested the media should be banned from reporting the teenager's name.

In response, Mr Warner said conditional discharges were brought in to stop people getting criminal convictions and having to deal with the consequences. He noted that the case was being dealt with in a public court, open to the public, and there are no statutory restrictions on the press reporting such cases.

However, he signalled he disagrees with that since “I am sure US Immigration reads the newspaper”.

Mr Warner said part of the point of avoiding a formal criminal conviction is “that the defendant is not prejudiced unnecessarily. What I am saying is if his name is published in the newspaper, quite properly [reporting] that he got a conditional discharge, that in itself leads to prejudice because I believe the US authorities make no distinction and they don't have to, between a criminal conviction and a discharge.”

Asked about the issue this week, US Consul Adam Vogelzang that a person makes themselves ineligible to enter the United States when they are convicted of certain offences, such as for drugs or theft, or when they break US immigration laws.

Asked about Mr Warner's comments about the authorities placing those with conditional discharges on the so-called “stop list” because their names are published in the newspaper, Mr Vogelzang said: “No, that doesn't happen”.

Asked if newspaper stories have any bearing on the matter, he said: “We do not monitor what is reported in the media, but we do utilise publicly available information.”

He declined to specify where this information is gleaned from.

Mr Vogelzang also provided The Royal Gazette with a statement from the Consulate which said: “There has been a general misunderstanding about the effect of Bermuda's conditional discharge. Under US law, a conditional discharge does not eliminate the need for a waiver.

“A conviction is deemed to have occurred because the defendant pled guilty and/or admitted to the facts as part of the process and a penalty in the form of conditional discharge was subsequently imposed.

“Likewise, the US does not recognise rehabilitation, as rehabilitation does not change the fact that a conviction occurred.”

Iconic: The Statue of Liberty. If you have a criminal conviction you will not be allowed into the US without special permission.
A ban can be lifted

Residents banned from travel to the US are still encouraged to request permission.

Explaining the procedure, US Consul Adam Vogelzang said: “Applicants start by scheduling online for an appointment to come to the Consulate on a Wednesday morning for a visa interview. You need to do that online, submit a digital photo, and print out your confirmation sheet.

“If it's your first time, you also need to pick up a copy of your police record from Police Headquarters at Prospect. You need to get clearance from Criminal Records Offices in any places you lived for more than six months. It comes in a sealed envelope, and we ask that you do not open that envelope.”

Applicants renewing a waiver can get an updated check for $10 from the Magistrates' Court in the Dame Lois Browne Evans Building.

It costs $100 to get an initial record check in Bermuda. For convictions in other jurisdictions, court documents must be brought along to the waiver interview.

Continued Mr Vogelzang: “You bring your police record and your confirmation sheet along with your passport to the Consulate for your visa interview. You need to show evidence of your ties to Bermuda as well, as an indication that you are not intending to immigrate to the US. That's because US immigration law states that all who apply are considered to be intending to immigrate to the US unless they prove otherwise.

“Most often it's a letter showing employment. It could be a statement of your pension, or if you own your own business, a bank statement. It could be evidence of property. All these can be taken into account.”

There is also a non-refundable fee, paid in cash: $160.

Waiver applications used to be accepted at the airport, but today requests are taken at the US Consulate only.

Applicants wait for their appointments in the Consulate foyer, and are then called to a booth for the formal interview.

As well as examining criminal records, Mr Vogelzang said: “We look at your ties to Bermuda, and then if you have proven sufficient ties, we get into a discussion of the waiver.

“At that consultation you will be informed whether or not the waiver application will be referred to the Department of Homeland Security. It's sent electronically, not by mail. Homeland Security, as the sole authority, makes the final decision.”

Useful website: hamilton.usconsulate.gov.

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Published April 19, 2012 at 9:45 am (Updated April 19, 2012 at 9:44 am)

No stop list, but crimes will prevent entry to US

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