A British Muslim teacher was barred from flying to the US last week despite having a valid visa waiver (ESTA) form. His links to Bangladesh may be to blame.
Juhel Miah, who teaches maths at Llangatwg Comprehensive School in Wales, was travelling with four other staff members and 39 students on a school trip. However, US officials pulled him off a flight from Reykjavik, Iceland to New York. He told BBC Radio Wales that he was "lost for words" and felt "really small" as he was escorted off the plane in front of his students. He repeatedly asked officials why he wasn't allowed to travel, but no one could give him an answer. The US embassy is yet to provide an explanation.
Miah told Convershaken that he was granted a visa waiver, which expires in 2019. He told the BBC that he was born in the UK, holds a British passport, and doesn't have dual citizenship or a criminal record. He has never visited the seven majority-Muslim countries recently targeted by US president Donald Trump's travel ban, and no one in his family has ties to those nations. Ruling out religious discrimination, the most likely explanation seems to be his ties to Bangladesh.
"There is a high threat from terrorism in Bangladesh," warns the UK government's foreign travel advice website. Islamic State has claimed responsibility for several attacks in the country, including an assault on a bakery last summer that left 20 hostages dead. Groups with ties to Al Qaeda have also been linked to several murders. "There is a heightened threat of future terrorist attacks," the government adds.
If Miah has travelled to Bangladesh in recent years, that may have been a red flag for US immigration officials. Bangladesh wasn't one of the seven countries singled out by Trump's travel ban, which was suspended by a federal judge in early February. And a new version of the ban, expected this week, will reportedly target the same countries. Nonetheless, Bangladesh may be on an informal black list.
A larger concern may be that British citizens are now subject to the ban, despite assurances from the UK government that they're excluded. That revelation could pour fuel on the fiery debate over Trump's planned state visit to the UK this year. It also suggests the travel ban could still be in place, albeit informally, and may have been extended to other countries.