Indie developer Malath Abbas should be settling in for this year’s Game Developers Conference in San Francisco. Instead, he’s stuck at Vancouver airport, after U.S. Customs and Border Protection blocked his entry into the country [Update: he’s since been allowed in].
Abbas, who holds a British passport, tells Kotaku that prior to leaving the UK he had used ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization), a visa waiver program people from certain countries can use to enter the US. At both the British airports he travelled through on the way to North America, he says this was checked and approved.
When it was checked again by US Customs in Canada, though, he was informed his ESTA waiver “has to be withdrawn”.
Abbas says the withdrawal is down to the fact that two years ago he travelled to Iraq to visit his family. As you can see here, in January of this year—part of measures introduced following the Paris terror attacks—the US government made changes to the visa waiver program (VWP) which meant “Nationals of VWP countries who have traveled to or been present in Iran, Iraq, Sudan, or Syria on or after March 1, 2011" would no longer be eligible to travel using ESTA.
Since this seems as much a matter of bad admin as it does a genuine security concern, Abbas has been told that in the morning he can visit the US consulate in Vancouver to try and sort things out. He’s also had an interview about obtaining a visa directly.
Oh, and as if he hasn’t had a bad enough trip already, Abbas says British Airways have also lost his luggage.
All of which makes for one shitty GDC experience thus far, but at least he’s keeping his spirits up. “Aside from all this negative stuff I have to firstly thank Canada for being a wonderful host and everyone’s kind words and support for getting me through this.”
Abbas is trying to get to GDC to show off his game Killbox, which is “an online game and interactive installation that critically explores the nature of drone warfare, its complexities and consequences.”
UPDATE Mar 17: Abbas tells Kotaku that he was given a visa earlier today, with the assistance of “some wonderful letters of support from IGDA + GDC”. Fingers crossed his luggage isn’t far behind.