Are U.S. border officials really qualified to test IT knowledge?
The following story has just emerged about a Nigerian software engineer who was made to answer computer engineering questions at New York’s JFK airport, as a way of testing the validity of his work visa to enter the U.S. This is a bizarre and untested way of confirming the validity of a visa, a product of the new “Wild West” of U.S. immigration policy.
It is troubling because it targets a highly skilled professional with the ability to fruitfully contribute to the American economy and human capital. To have been hired by this American firm, Celestine Omin must have valuable IT acumen. To impede his work for a U.S. company is a detriment to the American IT sector, the spread of knowledge across borders, and the millions of consumers who benefit from IT development. The story is below.
US immigration officials force Nigerian software engineer to complete written test to prove his computer knowledge
It looked to him like someone with no technical background Googled something like: ‘Questions to ask a software engineer’
US immigration officials forced a Nigerian software engineer to complete a written test on binary search trees to prove his computer knowledge.
Customs and Border Protection officers, took Celestine Omin, 28, into a room for further
He told them he worked for Andela, a tech start-up with offices in New York, Lagos, Nairobi and San Francisco, which claims to take “the most talented developers on the African continent” and link them with potential US employers.
The firm has offices in Kenya’s capital Nairobi, San Francisco, New York and the Nigerian city of Lagos, which was visited by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.
One of the officers then presented him with a piece of paper and a pen and told to answer these two questions to prove he is actually a software engineer:
“Write a function to check if a Binary Search Tree is balanced.”
“What is an abstract class, and why do you need it?”
In computer science, binary search trees are a particular type of data structure that store items such as numbers or names.
Omin told Linkedin that he thought the questions could have multiple answers and looked to him like someone with no technical background Googled something like: “Questions to ask a software engineer.”
After spending about 10 minutes working on them, he handed in his answers only to be told they were wrong.
As time passed, he said that he expected to be sent home to Nigeria, only for the official to let him 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.”
It later emerged that the officers had phoned Andela to verify his story.
Nigeria is not one of the included in US President Donald Trump’s executive order barring travel from seven predominantly Muslim countries.
I am currently a Research Fellow at the University of Rwanda's Center of Excellence in Biodiversity (CoEB). I focus on the gender dynamics of environmental conflict in Africa. My interdisciplinary Ph.D. in Law and Society at New York University examined gender in Nigeria's oil conflict.
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