Well known people who have been denied a US Visa or ESTA Visa Waiver

Published: Aug 30, 2019, Updated: Aug 30, 2019 | Tags: ESTA Denied, Denied for US Visa


Every year, millions of people apply for a visa to enter the United States. Applying for a US visa can be a challenging process and making just a small mistake can mean that your visa will be delayed or even denied. It’s essential to make sure that you keep yourself well-informed about any changes to the rules regarding US visa and ESTA applications, for instance, making sure that you apply for the right category of visa. While most US visa and visa waiver applications are granted, there are numerous reasons in US law as to why an application might not be approved, as some very well-known travellers have found to their cost.

1. Carrie Symonds

Carrie Symonds, the partner of UK prime minister Boris Johnson, was refused a visitor’s visa to enter the United States last week. Environmental campaigner Carrie had been planning to visit the US as part of her role with Oceana, an American based environmental group, but her request has been blocked by US immigration authorities. The decision to refuse her visa is believed to have been triggered by a 5-day trip to Somaliland that Ms Symonds made last year; during the trip, she discussed women’s rights and environmental issues with president Muse Bihi Abdi.

While the UK government maintains diplomatic relations with Somaliland, the United States does not, as it backs Somalia in the ongoing civil war. It is unclear whether Ms Symonds applied for an ESTA ( the US Electronic System for Travel Authorization) but it could well have been a question on the ESTA form that caused her application to be refused. Since March 2011, applicants must state whether they have travelled to Syria, Iraq, Sudan, Yemen, Somalia or Sudan, the countries targeted by President Trump’s travel ban. She now faces a struggle to get the ban lifted: because she is not married to the prime minister, 10 Downing St is unable to intervene directly.

2. Daniel Radcliffe

In 2014, Daniel Radcliffe, the star of the Harry Potter movies and West End and Broadway stage productions, was barred from reentering the United States after a trip to Canada for the premiere of his movie, What If?

The British actor was stranded in Toronto over some confusion regarding his visa status. He currently possessed a P-2 visa, designated for foreign entertainers and actors, and was in the process of applying for an O-1 visa, granted to those individuals with extraordinary abilities in the fields of science, art, sports or entertainment.

While the P-2 visa remains valid only for the period the holder is working on a specific project and must not exceed one year, the O-2 visa permits the holder to remain in the US for up to three years. Whilst Daniel Radcliffe’s application for an O-2 visa had been successful, he should have had it stamped by the US embassy in Toronto before returning to the US.

3. Amir Benayoun

The popular Israeli singer was refused a visa in 2018, on the grounds that he had performed a song critical of President Obama. Amir was scheduled to perform at the Holocaust Remembrance Day at the UN in New York bu the US embassy in Isreal declined to renew his visa. The reason they gave was that Benayound was planning to stay without permission rather than returning to Israel after the concert.

However, many observers believe that the real reason behind the visa refusal was that officials were bearing a grudge because Amir had written a song about an “evil” pet crow named Obama. Two other Israeli singers due to perform in New York were granted visas without any problems. Luckily for the singer, the decision was later reversed and he was able to perform his song “The Last One” at the Remembrance ceremony as planned.

4. Nigella Lawson

Celebrity TV chef and cookery writer were barred from boarding her flight from Heathrow to LA in 2014. She had been set to film a series of The Taste, her TV cooking contest show. The ban followed a courtroom admission during the fraud trial of her former assistants when she owned to having used cocaine and cannabis during the breakup of her marriage to wealthy art collector Charles Saatchi.

Drug abuse no longer triggers an automatic ban on entering the US but the ESTA form requires an applicant to answer a question as to whether they have ever taken illegal drugs in the past and it is on these grounds that Nigella was refused entry to the US. However, she had previously visited the United States once since then and had also discussed the case while promoting the new TV series.

Her lawyers sought a “waiver of inadmissibility” and US immigration officials invited her to reapply for a visa soon afterwards; she was permitted to travel to the United States to begin filming in the autumn of that year.

5. Diego Maradona

Although he’s remembered by millions as one of the greatest footballers of all time, the US immigration authorities had no hesitation in revoking Diego Maradona’s visa during the 1994 World Cup after he tested positive for cocaine use. In 2018, he was handed yet another ban; this time, however, he was denied entry because he had insulted Donald Trump on South African TV show. When asked about his opinion of Trump, he referred to the US president as a chirolita, an Argentinian insult implying that someone is a puppet. Maradona later denied that he was in the process of applying for a US visa but he was said to have needed to travel to Miami for a court case regarding his former wife.

6. Amir Khan

The welterweight boxer has a history of being denied entry to the United States. In a notorious incident in 2015 on the anniversary of 9/11, jumpy US officials stopped Amir from boarding a plane to Las Vegas, where he was planning to watch a fight between Floyd Mayweather and Marcos Maidana. No reason was given at the time, Amir was told simply that his visa was refused. Later it appears that the refusal was due to a case of mistaken identity.

Luckily, the Bolton-based boxer has friends in high places: Amir Khan was able to call the then British Prime Minister, David Cameron, to put in a word for him. The problem was quickly sorted out by lawyers in LA and London and Amir Khan was cleared to travel. Once in the US, he met Hillary Clinton and to date has had no further visa difficulties. 



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