A small business owner in Lindsay, Ont., recently missed out on the opportunity to sell products at a wool festival after being denied entry to the U.S., even though she says she did her homework and had the right paperwork.
“We have a great little yarn shop and this is a huge hit to us,” Heather Breadner, of Aberdeen’s Wool Company, told The Shift with Drex on Global News Radio.
Breadner said she was trying to cross the border near Gananoque on May 31 on her way to Frederick, Maryland, where she had registered as a vendor for FiberFest. She was travelling to the two-day event with an employee of the business, plus her parents and the employee’s father, in two cars.
She said that in order to sell her product, they had worked with a customs broker to prepare the necessary paperwork, and had received a 30-day sales tax permit from the state. Passport numbers and other information were submitted in advance. She said she had proof that she was a vendor at the wool festival, and had called a U.S. immigration general information phone line to inquire about what travel documents she needed.
LISTEN: Heather Breadner on the Shift with Drex
Breadner said she had entered the U.S. before with no problems, and no one in either vehicle had a criminal record or contraband.
But when they got to to the border, she was flagged for secondary screening by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials, and ultimately denied entry, along with her employee Amanda Sharpe. They were told it was because they didn’t have an E-2 Treaty Investor visa, she said.
In a video posted to Facebook, Breadner, along with Sharpe, said they were fingerprinted and had their pictures taken by border guards. They didn’t know if they were being arrested or detained, but they were eventually released.
She said she was provided with a letter from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that stated they were being returned to Canada because they didn’t have the appropriate work authorization.
A spokesperson for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection said he could not discuss individual cases due to privacy laws.
According to a U.S. Embassy website, the E-2 visa is for residents of countries that have commerce and transportation treaties with the United States, such as Canada, who are in the country to “develop and direct the operations of an enterprise in which the applicant has invested a substantial amount of capital.”
There was no dollar figure associated with the kind of investment necessary to obtain the visa, but the U.S. State Department website stated that “It must generate significantly more income than just to provide a living to you and family, or it must have a significant economic impact in the United States.”
Source: U.S. Department of State – Bureau of Consular Affairs website
Michael Niren, an immigration lawyer and president of VisaPlace.com, explained that the E-2 visa is a “huge undertaking” that involves applying at the U.S. Consulate in Toronto. The process could take three or four months.
“It’s essentially establishing a full-fledged business, usually for years and years, you know, where you make a substantial investment in that business and you hire Americans in that business,” he said.
He was not familiar with the particulars of Breadner’s case but said that sometimes border guards aren’t accurate in adjudicating cases. He said it was possible she could have been admitted under another category, a B1 business visitor.
Breadner said the E-2 visa was “clearly not even remotely applicable” to her trip. She said in all of her research, no one mentioned it. She said she doesn’t fault the customs broker, who did everything they could do to help.
A spokesperson for the company, Livingston International, said the business only deals with advising on customs compliance, rather than visa and immigration matters.
“We can’t comment on this particular case because it appears that it’s an immigration-related matter,” a spokesman said.
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After they were denied entry, the women later returned to the border to seek information about why they weren’t allowed in the country.
Officials, Breadner said, told her they could seize her vehicle, the goods inside or arrest her and ban them from travelling to the United States.
“We were met with a giant wall of hostility,” she said.
She said that the incident cost the business thousands due to the raw materials purchased, along with travel and other expenses.
“When you add it all up, $25,000 is a very conservative estimate of what we lost with a simple letter saying, ‘you’re denied entry.'”
Breadner said that while she recognizes that it’s a privilege, not a right, to enter another country, she’s concerned that those who travelled with her won’t be able to cross the border again without having to go through secondary screening.
Increased scrutiny at the U.S border
As for why she was singled out, Breadner told Global News Radio Host Drex that she had no idea — she said they weren’t rude or hostile — but noted that it happened against the backdrop of trade tensions between Canada and the U.S.
Niren said that U.S. President Donald Trump is “tightening up immigration in all respects,” making it harder for all to enter the country, though there hasn’t yet been formal changes for Canadians.
“All applications are being much more heavily scrutinized than they were before — border entries even coming in as visitors,” he said. “It’s more difficult to get admitted to the United States. Everyone is being scrutinized at a higher level than ever before.”
He said that for those looking to do business or sell goods in the states, it could be helpful to consult with an immigration lawyer, who can prepare a letter to present at the border explaining the purpose of the trip and how the person qualifies for entry.