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Student tells of holiday visa 'nightmare'
7:00am Wednesday 16th October 2013 in News
A student barred from going on a dream family holiday to the US has described his “nightmare” at being branded a high-risk passenger.
Ismail Hussein, who is studying at the University of Bradford, said his family’s £8,000 trip to California was left in tatters at the airport when their tourist visas were revoked only hours before they were due to fly.
And he said they still have not been told why they have been branded “high-risk” by US security services.
He said: “We can only assume. They might think I’m part of some drug cartel or a terrorist ring – it could be anything.
“That might not have been the case but at the end of the day they didn’t tell us what the reason was, so we were just left to assume.”
Mr Hussein, 21, a civil and structural engineering student, had been due to fly out to the US with his mother Farzana, father Mohamed, sister Zaina, 19, and brother Shuhaib, 12.
He said that at the check-in desk at Heathrow they were told that everyone apart from Shuhaib had had their ESTAs – visa-like documents for short-term tourist trips – revoked.
Mr Hussein said the family tried to speak to immigration officials at the airport and also went to the US Embassy in London. But all they were told was that they were “high-risk passengers”.
He said: “If we were high-risk passengers why not come down and arrest us? It was an absolute nightmare for us. We had been looking forward to the holiday for months.
“We have got nothing to hide at the end of the day so if they wanted to do any additional checks we were more than happy for them to.
“We are all for additional security checks because it does make flying safer.”
The family, from Hendon, London, had successfully applied for the ESTAs in July.
They had planned a packed itinerary with visits to attractions such as Universal Studios, Mr Hussein said. He said he suspected their experience showed “what it is like for many Muslims who want to travel to the US”.
After their ordeal, the Hussein family booked a last-minute deal to Thailand to make the best of the situation.
The Telegraph & Argus contacted the US Government’s Department of Homeland Security for comment but did not receive a reply.
However, in an e-mail response to the family’s complaint, a spokesman wrote: “We can feel your frustration. However the system can deny any ESTA at any time and that is the reality.”