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


Harish Srinivasan's picture

I suppose he had a tourist visa which does not entail him to earn money via certain methods (like teaching) while in the u.s.

From customs point of view, making money from winning a chess tournament is same as going to a casino and winning some money. That is covered under tourist visa, but not teaching.

I always thought, sports professionals had a completely different kind of visas. Anyway, hope Vishy makes it through safe.

Rafael Zepeda's picture

It is ok if needed a working visa, but treat him like criminal, 12 hours with out food, water, why??

moo's picture

Where does it say he didn't have food or water?

canoy's picture

US immigration sucks really badly. My wife was once detained for several hours and treated as a terrorist suspect because the US immigration themselves had made a mistake in the past and then claimed a Dutch passport was not something they considered a legal way of identifying oneself. I, for one, am happy to avoid the US if I can.

Fireblade's picture

U.S Immigration laws do not permit a top GM coaching american kids for money without a work visa when if he enters the country via an immigration check point.

If you sneak in through Arizona, we are ok with that.

Anonymous's picture

yep. He should try the illegal route. Hell get free stuff too

Zeblakob's picture

Did USA army ask for a working visa before going to Irak?

hansie's picture


Manu's picture

plundering is considered religion in USA , a whole different story

sonum's picture

how about u being treated similarly when travelling abroad?

sonum's picture

how about u being treated similarly when travelling abroad?

JanisNisii's picture

We should start to kick out all the Americans who work in Europe without a working visa. They are many thousands around and they feel (and apparently are) untouchable. What a shame!

hansie's picture


Hugh Jass's picture

what an idiot for even mentioning it. The guy must be clueless.

Billy Hunt's picture

Apparently you think "clueless" and "honest" are synonymous. What was arguably idiotic was not applying for a work visa in the first place.

Aditya's picture

That depends on whether Loek knew that he had to apply for a work visa. The demarcation is not very obvious. A tournament does not need a work visa even if appearance fee is guaranteed. Does playing a simul where you are offered money require a work visa? It's a bit hazy and it was the responsibility of the organizers to find this out, not Loek's.

JanisNisii's picture

We should start to kick out all the Americans who work in Europe without a working visa. They are many thousands around and they feel (and apparently are) untouchable. What a shame!

hansie's picture


MH's picture

One advice. When you accidentilly end up in a US jail, never tell the guys that you want to show them a nice opening move.

Horst's picture

Good one! :-)

meandmeagain's picture

it just shows how stupid these people are.

hansie's picture


RuralRob's picture

Why, oh why, does anyone outside the U.S. even TRY to visit the U.S. any more? U.S. Customs and airport/border security have gone completely insane. There is no low that they won't stoop to any more.

hansie's picture


John Henderson's picture

Sorry Loek, but you should never have mentioned anything regarding the teaching gig with kids, as that specifically needs a work visa. Saying "playing chess and poker" you would easily have got through; but just like in Europe, if you do not posses an EU passport, you would need a work visa to enter also if you mentioned you were teaching. I almost got sent back from Seattle back in 2000 (before 9/11) for much the same thing; I think my natural charm and personality won the day though. I learned my lesson then, and since have had 3 x 5 year Journalist I-Visas.

RuralRob's picture

And you think that by mentioning "teaching kids", Loek deserved to be shackled and locked into a room for eight hours with one allowed phone call? It is totally barbaric.

hansie's picture


foo's picture

right. Your charm is evident in your stupid remarks & rules on ICC chessFM

ANTI SCOT's picture
Csaba's picture

Instead of considering this a noble act, they chose to apply the law. How unfair! Of course it is an overreaction but I would like to hear the other side of the story too... Denying him entry seems reasonable, handcuffing him for no reason seems unreasonable.

Remco Gerlich's picture

I think it was fair that he was denied access to the country, that's how the law works.

That he was then shackled and locked in a room with one phone call allowed is ridiculous.

Columbo's picture

" locked in a room with one phone " is part of the law too

Amos's picture

I don't think it is. It is a part of "movies law", but not reality. If he had a phone with him, they should have allowed him to call as much as he wanted. If he had no phone, "reasonable amount of calls" should have been allowed. There is no law that limits the number of calls to one.

Robert Ipsaul's picture

It's sad really that Homeland Security didn't know who he was. His name is a little odd and kind of sticks out if you know anything about chess which they didn't I guess. It says alot about the everyday priorities of everyday americans, I'm sure some famous foreign singer would have no trouble getting in because thats where these security guards heads were at; glued to american idol just like the rest of jerkwater america.

Gunnar's picture

I applaude Loek for being honest when asked about work/money! Some people just need to chill out a little and realise that kids being taught by international GMs is a great honour for them and it isn't as if Loek would set up shop in the US. Such a shame that these juniors might miss out :(

As to the overreaction by US Customs - one can just smirk and be happy to live in Europe!

Craig Haun's picture

I am mortified. My country is increasingly an embarrassment. I'm sure GM Van Wely will find other countries eager to receive his contributions.

fen's picture

The chess clubs in question should have informed Van Wely of his visa requirements when they hired him. It is unreasonable to expect a foreigner to know all of our work rules and there are requirements for employers when hiring foreign workers as well.

It seems kind of hard to believe that neither LA nor St. Louis took the time to help him with this, but if they didn't, then they owe him a big apology. On the other hand, if he knew he needed a work visa and tried to get through customs without it, then I have no sympathy for him.

Bert de Bruut's picture

So your sympathy is with the panicking handcuffers?

B L's picture

He should of known better. That is all.

Anonymous's picture

*He should have known better.

Ruben's picture

You should have know better Loek! The land of the free that s were you want to be! So be quick and you can be just on time for the camp!
And lets face it they told you after all that a visum would be "no problem" ! So where are you waiting for?

Anonymous's picture

I hope the next GM in this predicament simply says, "I am here as a tourist and to play in a tournament." That's it! Undercover immigration agents are NOT going to be following you around to make sure that is all you do. By being completely forthcoming he was punished with the requirement of of now having to go through extra paperwork hassles every-time he want's to visit the got-d@mned U.S.

mar's picture

Police state strikes again.

Anonymous's picture

You obviously havent lived in a police state; otherwise you'd know what a police state looks like.

Anonymous's picture

I HAVE lived in a police state (and still do). It is called the United States of America. The NDAA codified into law what powers the executive branch had already arrogated to itself - that of grabbing a U.S. citizen and holding him indefinitely without trial. That's right - de-facto life in prison if the President decides that you're guilty (of supporting terrorism)' and that decision can be made on the basis of 'classified' information that neither you nor your attorney can access.

hansie's picture


Anonymous's picture

I am talking about countries where you'd be hanging from a hook if you shot your mouth like the way you do now. That's why I live in the US and not not I my country of origin

Anonymous's picture

This is not true. Shame on you. Go to Iran.

Anonymous's picture

No, I don't know what a 21st Century police state looks like, but it won't be the same as East Germany - the 'classic' variety. Instead, it could be a place where your car is tracked... phone and all other communications are checked. Is this not something we would expect of any semi-competent police state in this day and age?

Ruben's picture

In Holland all phone calls are checked, so Holland is a police state?


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