Reports | July 11, 2012 22:05

Van Wely denied entry to U.S. for lacking a work visa

Loek van Wely

On Monday night at Newark Airport Loek van Wely was denied to enter the United States because he "lacked a work visa". When the Dutch grandmaster told the authorities that, among other things, he was going to teach chess to American kids, they considered this an illegal working activity. As a result of that, Van Wely's entry was refused, he got detained, handcuffed and escorted by police to a plane and deported.

Monday, July 9th at 21.30 Loek van Wely arrived at Newark Liberty International Airport. He had just started a big trip to the USA. As always, at customs he was asked what he was going to do in the USA, and he explained that he would celebrate holidays, play poker, play chess and participate in two chess camps.

This attracted their attention,

Van Wely told us on the phone on Wednesday night.

I explained that I was going to teach kids chess, and they asked if I would be earning money with this. I said yes, and told them how much. Then they detained me.

Van Wely was held in a small room for eight hours, and had to hand over his mobile phone.

I was allowed to make one phone call, as if I was some dangerous criminal. I called the Duch consulate, but they couldn't help me,

said Van Wely. On Tuesday morning at 04:30 AM he was handcuffed and escorted to a terminal. There he had to wait for another 4.5 hours before he was escorted by police to a plane which flew him back to London. (He had also flown to Newark via London.)

Besides visiting Atlantic City, New York and Las Vegas, Van Wely was going to coach quite strong teenagers, rated between 2200 and 2500, in Saint Louis for a few days. Later he would also join a short chess camp in L.A.

Instead of considering this a noble act, they looked at this as an illegal working activity. (...) I was surprised I didn't end up in Guantanamo Bay,

Van Wely wrote on Facebook, where he revealed the whole affair in a status update on Wednesday.

The Dutch grandmaster said to us that he understands that a working visa is required for his coaching work.

However, the reaction was heavily exaggerated. The thing is, they are never bothered when you tell them you will play a chess tournament, and you have a chance to win some money. And for a chess player, making money with coaching comes down to the same thing, but for the authorities it's very different. They see coaching, much more than playing, as work.

Last year Van Wely also took part in a chess camp in Los Angeles, before playing in a tournament there.

I only started recently with these chess camps, so it's not a regular income or anything. And it was just going to be ten days; it's not that I was going to doing a lot of work in the States.

Van Wely is still trying to rearrange is trip and do the coaching.

I'll try to get a work visa. They said it shouldn't be a problem, but I'm expected to be in Saint Louis on July 22nd, so there is not much time.

Even if he won't do any coaching, from now on Van Wely will need to apply for a visa to visit the USA for the rest of his life. This is standard practice for travellers who have once been rejected.

At the chess camp in Los Angeles, Vishy Anand is also going to make an appearance – if the World Champion gets through customs, that is.

Peter Doggers's picture
Author: Peter Doggers

Founder and editor-in-chief of, Peter is responsible for most of the chess news and tournament reports. Often visiting top events, he also provides photos and videos for the site. He's a 1.e4 player himself, likes Thai food and the Stones.


Septimus's picture

If the proceedings are being recorded, the officer can lose his job. He has a family to feed as well.

Barone's picture

That's not true. The officer could simply say something on the line of:
"I have to inform you that teaching is a working activity not allowed by your visa, and since this isn't your language, maybe you are confusing lectures with teaching lessons... Do you wish to reformulate your statement?"
If you mind that this whole incident is bad for US public relatiotions and also wastes US citizens money to persecute, imprison and transfer back to England a person which is clearly not an illegal immigrant: than maybe you'll understand that officer would have risked only a positive outcome from the whole thing.

Anthony Migchels's picture

The "I'm just doin' my jab mam' doesn't do it anymore Septimus. Not since Neurenberg.

Feeding your family by serving an utterly fascist and criminal enterprise like the US Govt is NOT a reasonable excuse for complicity.

Somebody else's picture

Are there any neurons still working in your head? What nonsense are you talking about?

Barone's picture

Sorry but your argumentation failed to impress.

Ruben's picture

I shall explain the comment. After the war the Nazis always had de exuse " I just followd orders " when they were asked why they killed so many jews in the gaschambers with also little childern. So thats why this argument is not so ecepted so well anymore. People can also think themself " Is this right waht I am doing ?" .
But in general you can ask your self the question of thinking is the strongest piont a the ones that you giving the orders too. Mostly we choose people for this task that can not think themself very well and rather like to follow orders and getting compliments for this, just like little childern.

Barone's picture

My comment was an answer to:
"Are there any neurons still working in your head? What nonsense are you talking about?"
Which harshly answered my previous comment, with no argumantation whatsoever

RealityCheck's picture

Dear un-Lucky Loek,

be glad they shuffled you off to a single room. They could've thrown you in an overcrowded cell full of desperate guys. Overnight! That would've been real a pain in the arse.

RG's picture

What's all this nonsense about Stalin and Hitler? Europe also gave birth to Socrates, Aristotle, Plato, Einstein and DEMOCRACY!

KingTal's picture

Your right Europe gave birth to Stalin, Hitler and most important thing, to the US and A.

Somebody else's picture

No pity for Van Wely. He thought that because he is a GM he is above the law. Guess what, Loek? You're not. And then he started complaining like a little kid about how cruel Americans are and saying stupid stereotypical things like Guantanamo Bay trying to make fun of authorities and the law. And he seems to have full knowledge of the prohibitions of the american law. Another arrogant European who thinks he is smart and therefore he can make fun of the US (but who is more than eager to come in the States and make money)

Barone's picture

All the things you say would make sense if Van Wly had stated he was in the US for turism and he was found a lier.

Ruben's picture

Guess what? Americans like you does European people really make to love the USA! Not!
And if the USA is so fond "on there so called laws" ( there own ) then it would be nice if they would respect the international laws too! And not start bombing every where without any VN mandate.

Somebody else's picture

If the United States didn't have an interventionist foreign policy, Europe today would have been under Nazi and communist rule. Freedom-loving nations should be grateful to the United States and to the american people for defending liberty and human rights across the globe. UN is a bureaucratic organization which allows genocides to happen just because some undemocratic countries (for example Russia and China) block all actions. Like it or not, the US is the only beacon of hope for many countries that live under barbaric, inhumane regimes.

Anthony Migchels's picture

Why the surprise? Everybody knows it's a bunch totally fascist maniacs with their TSA and terrorist horse manure
In the case of King Loek the only surprising thing is they didn't toss him in jail before!

GM Varnsen's picture

Another moronic rule coming to the US is that you need a journalist visa if you are a reporter. It's probably the same in China and Russia as well. I know of games journalists being handcuffed and deported for saying they were going to a games convention for a weekend. Give med 1 good reason for having this rule (other than trying to make it harder for the world press to report what is happening in USA).

ritesh tiwari's picture

america asks for visa to teach chess, what about bombing of us army at other countris do america has permission to do that ?

Soviet School's picture

Does anyone know which tournament the second picture of Van Wely was taken, he seems to be playing with a Dubrovnik set which was Fischer's favourite and was designed for 1950 Olympiad in Dubrovnik.?

Ruben's picture

Well Belgrad was bombed by the USA so maybe they dont like Joegoslav pieces hahaha
And did the USA not hunting down there own chess legent Bobby Fisher because of playing his second " World Match " title in the for them wrong country, just as long till they got the old men?

Columbo's picture

for those who dont speak french, it says that a Syrian team couldnt play a tournament in sweden because the players didnt have a Visa ...

Columbo's picture

PS : don't think they were handcuffed though ---

Anonymous's picture

This is what happens when you let big government take over and run things.

Tom Servo's picture

Ah yes America, the so called "land of the free". Yes there is a reason that over 1% of their population is in jail. They are a paranoid police state that becomes more oppressive with each passing year.

Sylvander's picture

Human rights are cheap in the U.S. They routinely torture prisoners of war (even back in 1991). And people in uniform enjoy intimidating anyone they can lay their hands on. Handcuffing and keeping in custody for hours can happen for the most minor of offenses. The only purpose of handcuffs in these cases is to humiliate. Which is why I ceased traveling there years ago. Fortunately my Americans come to visit. Or we meet in Canada which is still a democratic free land ;)

bronkenstein's picture

Hey, why the ´ ;) ´ ? ;)

Jambo's picture

Leok should have entered in through Mexico or simply wore Muslim garb at which point he would have been allowed entry without hesitation.

James's picture

OMG some of the comments here are off the wall. I imagine Loek has entered the US many times before and probably simply restated what he stated before and had been allowed permission to enter without any fuss. The problem is there is a gray area open to interpretation, and no one can reasonably expect to be 100% right in such situations. In these circumstances even consular advice given beforehand might not be as interpreted by Customs/TSA/Homeland Security or whatever.

The truth is you simply take your chances when you enter the US as you can never be certain of what customs or TSA will do.

Anonymous's picture

Why can't they tell him that he cannot do the chess camps (which needs the work visa) and let him in for what he is allowed to do. Why do they have to deport him?

James's picture

Why a lot of things about the way Customs and TSA works.

Robert Smith's picture

This damn country has become a police state. As a citizen I am ashamed, mortified and angry that this incident occurred.


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