Swede: 'terrorist' name behind US visa delay

David Landes
David Landes - [email protected]
Swede: 'terrorist' name behind US visa delay
Filmaker Otham Karim; the US embassy in Stockholm

A Swedish filmmaker and television host claims he has not yet received a visa to the United States because authorities think his name is similar to that of a terrorist's.


“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.

“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.


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