Software engineer Celestine Omin was in for a surprise when he landed in New York after a 24-hour-long air journey from Nigeria. At the airport, two American immigration officials began asking him technical questions to ascertain whether he really was an engineer. Omin had come to the US from Nigeria on a work trip.
According to Omin's LinkedIn post providing details of the incident, he works with Andela, a Nigerian startup backed by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan. He was flying to the US to help a FinTech startup called First Access.
When Omin landed on 26 February, US Customs and Border protection officials asked him some questions after which he was escorted to a small room. After an hour's wait, some officers came into the room and started firing him with technical questions. "Write a function to check if a Binary Search Tree is balanced" and "What is an abstract class, and why do you need it?" were two of the questions he was asked to answer.
I was just asked to balance a Binary Search Tree by JFK's airport immigration. Welcome to America.— Celestine Omin (@cyberomin) February 26, 2017
@ssharwood I was too tired to even think of a BST solution. I have e been travelling for 23hrs. But I was also asked about 10 CS questions.— Celestine Omin (@cyberomin) February 26, 2017
Omin answered the questions on a piece of paper he was provided but they were deemed incorrect because they didn't tally with Wikipedia entries on the topics. Despite being very tired, he had to answer 10 questions.
@ssharwood sad thing is, if I didn't give the Wikipedia definition for these questions, it was considered a wrong answer.— Celestine Omin (@cyberomin) February 26, 2017
The officials allowed him to enter the United States after checking with both the startups he was working with. Andela's co-founder and CEO Jeremy Jhonson said that this was the first such incident of its kind for the company. Andela sent over 100 people from Africa to the US for work last year.
"I have been trying to focus here, and I haven't thought about what is going to happen when I go back to the airport," Omin said. "I am coming here legally with good intentions, and I hope to continue this work."
In January, in the wake of an executive order by US president Donald Trump, immigration officials in the US had asked some arriving non-Americans to provide them access to their social media accounts as part of their security procedures.