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Swede: 'terrorist' name behind US visa delay

David Landes · 25 Aug 2011, 14:33

Published: 25 Aug 2011 14:33 GMT+02:00

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“Everyone in my family got their visa within a week. But not me,” Otham Karim told the Aftonbladet newspaper.

“My name is Otham Karim. That's enough.”

The 43-year-old filmmaker, who was born in Uganda but has been a Swedish citizen for the past 30 years, filed his application for a visa to the United States back in early May.

Karim lived in the United States for several years previously, a time during which he worked for Steven Spielberg's production company Amblin Entertainment.

He was also a long time host of the Sveriges Television programme Mosaic, and has directed a number of feature films in the last decade, including 2010's Dear Alice (För kärleken), in which Karim cast veteran US actor Danny Glover.

Karim had hoped to bring his family to the United States to accompany him while he participated in a film making class in Los Angeles.

But as things stand now, his family can go, but he cannot.

“By claiming that I have the same name as a terrorist, the authorities can treat me however they want,” he told the newspaper.

According to Karim, he first learned that he may have the same name as a suspected terrorist shortly after the September 11th attacks when he attempted to wire some money to Uganda to help pay for treatment needed by his ailing father.

But the transfer was stopped by Western Union, which informed him that he was on a terrorist watch-list.

As the months have dragged on since he filed his visa application, Karim believes he is still being singled out because of his name.

“This is another form of the racism I've experienced previously. Now I'm not only a svartskalle [lit. blackhead], but I'm also a terrorist,” he said, referring to a derogatory slur commonly used to refer to people in Sweden thought to have foreign backgrounds.

Karim's claims that his visa application has been delayed because his name is on a list of suspected terrorists is “certainly possible”, according to Swedish terrorism expert Magnus Ranstorp.

“The concern isn't from left field,” he told The Local.

“There are many instances where people with similar or exact-sounding names as suspected terrorists have found themselves singled out.”

According to Ranstorp, the question is what Karim may or may not have done to correct the situation when he first became aware of the issue.

“One has to ask what he has been doing to consult with US authorities to get him off that list,” he said, emphasising that it remains difficult to know exactly what may have held up the issuance of Karim's US visa.

Story continues below…

“The delay could be because of his name or it could be because of something else,” he said.

Chris Dunnett, a spokesperson from the US embassy in Stockholm, told The Local he was unable to comment on the specifics of the case due to privacy concerns, but emphasised that the process can take a long time “for various reasons”.

“Processing times can very considerably and that can sometimes be an inconvenience, but long waits aren't unusual,” said Dunnett.

Karim, however, remains frustrated by the embassy's explanations.

“They won't tell my why I haven't got my visa. But my understanding is that it has to do with my name,” he told Aftonbladet.

David Landes (david.landes@thelocal.se)

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Your comments about this article

15:33 August 25, 2011 by Abe L
Right, so the guy isn't called Andersson but actually has a name from a region that's on the US watchlists. This really isn't that strange, for some coworkers in similar situations applying for an ESTA also took 2 weeks while most Swedes get instant approval. I really don't see the problem with the US authorities taking precautions, if he did turn out to be a terrorist and something happens everyone would be "omg, can't believe they just gave him a visa."
16:27 August 25, 2011 by Rishonim
This guy is not a terrorist. I know him personally and I can attest to that.
16:31 August 25, 2011 by Carbarrister
"One has to ask what he has been doing to consult with US authorities to get him off that list," he said, emphasising that it remains difficult to know exactly what may have held up the issuance of Karim's US visa.

I think Karim waited until the last minute and is now enjoying the publicity he gets from having his visa delayed by a "racist" country he is trying to get in to.
17:06 August 25, 2011 by kbams
This is not percautions...this is ridicolous.... and is not the only one who has to suffer rasict crap in America or England for that matter, I personally have stood in my underwear in a yellow square in the middle of JFK airport with everybody looking, was never as glad to get out of the country as that time..........Personally I think America has enough problems they really ought not to worry about terrorist, considering their daily murder rate is more than Sweden could rack up in a decade.........but yeah...the name Karim is dangerous........

Lets not forget the name of theUS president, if I am not mistaken his middle name is Hussein......so I am guessing doubble standards is something they have taken to heart and ran with it.
17:21 August 25, 2011 by calebian22
This is not racism. It is highly unfortunate that he has the same name as a terrorist, but his visa delay is not due to skin color. But hey, why not play the race card?
17:48 August 25, 2011 by Tysknaden
Many "filmmakers" and "tv-hosts" should be considered terrorists :-)
18:25 August 25, 2011 by 1shortscot
It happens. A university friend of mine in the 1980s had a Spanish father and his surname was Castro so you can imagine the fun and games he had getting into America and that was well before the start of Al-Qaeda. Sensible checks need to be made, (Although surely any terrorist who applies for a visa or books onto a plane using their own name may well have problems crossing the road safely on their own.), but surely by now there is a way to keep a note of those unfortunate enough to have a name similar to someone on a watch list so this type of problem can be swiftly sorted.
18:53 August 25, 2011 by Aquos
Oh, those Americans again!

I don't have a terrorist name and yet they give me a hard time while getting a visa....I don't know what they are up to. They have the right to defend and care for their land, but they can't be that ridiculous all the time!
19:35 August 25, 2011 by Mib
Terrorists could have fun with this......they could change their names to John Smith, michael Jackson etc. Obviously, the intelligence service is not very intelligent if the delay is based just on someones name. As if a terrorist would use their real name and passport anyway. It's like that stupid question they put on those green forms asking if you've ever been a terrorist. Stupid people in a stupid world. This fear of terror has been overstated too much to justify poking into peoples privacy at will. Thankfully, the US has not beensuccessfully attacked since 2001. Something would have succeeded by now if the threat was high. They should focus more on mass shootings by deranged people. If they applied the same amount of fear and scrunity on those mass killings, they may have saved a lot of people. They have killed many more than terrorist since 9/11!!
21:40 August 25, 2011 by conboy
Americans have an overexaggerated sense of their own importance and an inestimable lack of knowledge about the world they inhabit along with the rest of us. Human stupidity is the only ´natural resource that is not listed on the commodities exchange presumably because of the endless supply available. I don't know which is worse here the self serving martyr syndrome promoted by Karim or the gross stupidity of the American authorities who can allow in 53 Al Kaeda operatives to sneak into the US, train as pilots and then actually steal four passenger aircraft. We really are the stupidest genetic species on the planet!
21:51 August 25, 2011 by capheda
""Processing times can very considerably and that can sometimes be an inconvenience, but long waits aren't unusual," said Dunnett."

That sounds like the same thing I've heard from Swedish officials... and I'm no "crazy American" in Sweden. I haven't read any of the comments to this article, but I anticipate a lot of crap from multiple sides, despite the fact that anyone from any side could be treated the same as the subject of this article, for any reason, relevant or not.
22:38 August 25, 2011 by Iraniboy
It says alot about the effectiveness of their inteligence system! A torrorist will not say who he is and he will not fill in the US visa forms saying he is terrorist! The whole system is just ineffecient!

Our US embassy staff 'calebian22' announced that the visa delay is not due to skin colour! Maybe he can explain more the exact reasons behind it given his post in the embassy!!! Or wait he hasn't even been there and he is just saying this out of his....
22:40 August 25, 2011 by Sweetcell
I am actually surprised to find that you need a visa to visit the US from Sweden. I guess as a Canadian I am fortunate not to need visas to visit the US but also Sweden and Europe as a whole. (or at least up until the last time I traveled).

However, know he had the same name as someone on the watch list, clearly he should have started earlier knowing this would be an issue, and I'm sure if he's previously worked in the US he knew he would need to return at some point given his industry.

I also see no use of playing the race card - this has nothing to do with the colour of his skin but all to do with his name and the US clearly has the right to protect their borders, well some of them. If he wants he could just fly to Mexico and pay someone to smuggle him across :)
23:07 August 25, 2011 by canam
Who cares? The US gov't can decide and deny as they please. I'd expect the same for any other country.
23:23 August 25, 2011 by Just_Kidding
I can go to Paris, Rome, Milan, Berlin and Genoa, but two years ago, the wonderful government of US of A decided that I am not cool enough to go to Buffalo, NY...

I have a good job, good education (PhD in engineering) and a good life here in Sweden and I love watching Seinfeld.

Atheist Iranian
23:36 August 25, 2011 by DAVID T
I hope he doesn't get a visa mr poor black man - you're not the first person having to wait for a visa - I had to wait a long time for mine - I'm sure it was because I'm white - those damn racists
23:42 August 25, 2011 by The Grand Master
Is this really news? Like, who cares?

Meanwhile, Saab crumbles, Libya explodes, the Euro is self destructing and the world economy is on the brink. But some bloke has a delay with a visa-oh please....zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz
00:15 August 26, 2011 by Boobie
The Grand Master: Do you see a connection to that list you just presented?? Think About It a lil...
00:16 August 26, 2011 by Tysknaden
Because of his hat, this man has to have free entry to every hat-loving country.
05:01 August 26, 2011 by Sebastian_R
I like how many people here claim that it's ok to be racist, if it's just in the name of prevention of terror. (By the way, read the article - he's not pulling the race card, he essentially uses the word "racism" synonymously for "discrimination", not syntatically correct but understandable. And to be discriminated against for having a name is no better than being discriminated against for having a skin color, religion, gender, age or any other feature.)

As a matter of fact and from a legal point of view the US of course has the rights to refuse anyone for any reason. But that does not change the simple truth, that there has been (and still seem to be) a lot of collateral damage in the fight against terrorism.
06:12 August 26, 2011 by Da Goat
Sweden is the easiest place in the world to change names (you are referenced by your person number your name is not really relevant there) I suggest he becomes a Svensson that would fool them a dark skinned Svensson!

yeah just be patient dude and/or put your application in early next time!
09:28 August 26, 2011 by Grokh
isnt USA the country that has 2 year olds on no fly lists but lets certain nigerians whose parents been warning were extremist , into airplanes.
10:41 August 26, 2011 by Heebz
I once had to wait 3 months for my visa to be approved to Sweden. This must mean that Swedish authorities are racist towards Americans!
12:42 August 26, 2011 by underskyofsweden
And then how about adding also "Andres" (Norwegian terrorist) to the visa check-up list?! Isn't it fair?!
12:44 August 26, 2011 by Localer
he has swedish passport, why he need the visa ?
15:46 August 26, 2011 by tadchem
Somebody named David Nelson (two very common names here in the US) once got himself on a terrorist watch list. Ever since then *nobody* named 'David Nelson' (and there are dozens in the US alone - Wikipedia lists 22 *noteworthy* Dave Nelsons) can travel in the US without a lot of hassles. That included the late brother of the 60's pop star Ricky Nelson.

This is not racism; it is paranoia. Sometimes paranoia is reasonable. "Better safe than sorry."
13:50 August 27, 2011 by J Jack
This happens to Europeans all the time but doesn't get publicity unless that person is some kind of achiever.
22:32 August 27, 2011 by juvi999
My Swedish coworker had troubles getting a visa for Tanzania. He must have been on the white list.
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