Uppinder Bhatia was detained for questioning by the FBI when recently travelling on a family holiday in the USA. The reason? This family photo. The Bhatia family hired a car and travelled to many of the usual significant tourist spots in North America, FBI headquarters being one such destination. Two hours after taking this photo, Uppinder was approached by two members of the FBI in a parking lot. Meanwhile, the parking lot was surrounded by five black SUVs with darkened windows. Uppinder was then interrogated for 45 minutes while his family video footage and photos were reviewed and his family waited anxiously. Uppinder was eventually free to leave and had his personal belongings returned to him.

Uppinder is a BI Consultant, successful businessman and frequent traveller to India and China. As a Sikh, Uppinder always wears a turban, however has never encountered such attention as a result. Similarly, another Sikh colleague of Uppinder who travels to the States four to five times a year for business was recently detained at US customs. He was subjected to a search which included him having to remove his turban, culturally a significant affront to a Sikh’s dignity.

It is becoming increasingly challenging for non-caucasians to travel in the USA. Many of our clients and contacts are rethinking global conference plans to avoid the US due to the difficulties encountered in attaining visas or travelling freely through airports. Alternate destinations in South America and Asia are gaining in popularity for annual conferences and business meetings as a result.

Published Feb 2006