If you have ever applied for permission to visit the US through Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA), you must have come across this peculiar question – “Do you seek to engage in or have you ever engaged in terrorist activities, espionage, sabotage, or genocide?”
John Stevenson, a 90-year-old from Scotland, ticked this option. Stevenson was applying for a US ESTA — visit permission for citizens of countries under visa wavier program – to go with his wife to New York on a holiday and had already spent around Rs. 2 lakh on the tickets and accommodation. Unsurprisingly, his application was rejected by the US department of homeland security and he lost all the money. He was afraid that he was banned from entering the US forever. However, when the couple requested correction, Stevenson was asked to visit the US embassy in London, where he would be questioned by officials.
Stevenson told The Independent that he was shocked and confused. Stevenson failed to understand why even that question was there on the form. He explained that the form was getting timed out, which might have led him to the mistake. He expressed fears of being surveilled as he thought he was being considered a criminal by the US authorities.
This 3-year-old story of Stevenson is not the only story of someone getting in trouble because of the weird question on the ESTA application. As bizarre as it sounds, in April 2017, a three-month-old baby was called for questioning after his grandfather made a mistake by ticking the question and declaring that the baby was a terrorist.
US Visa and ESTA applications are known to come with expensive mistakes and are hard to get approved. In June 2018, Javier Solana, a former chief of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, an intergovernmental military alliance, was denied permission to visit the US because he had visited Iran in 2013.