Justin Bieber, Immigration And Celebrity Status

Anyone who has been exposed to famous entertainers will tell you that stardom and criminal charges sometimes go hand in hand.

If you flip open the pages of any gossip magazine, you’ll find that movie stars, athletes and band members are plagued by a rash of criminal convictions.

Common offences include DUI, marijuana use, drug possession, common assaults and mischief.  Biographies of famous stars, for example those of Steven Tyler of Aerosmith or Jim Morrison of the Doors, show that this is a common and never-ending saga.

You often hear about the criminal consequences of these actions but not much about the implications for travel and immigration. And then there’s this latest case involving Justin Bieber:

Reports from Canada said a supervisor at a Niagara Falls border crossing was fired after accepting a bribe worth $10,000 in backstage passes to Justin Bieber’s shows.

The Canadian Border Services Agency fired the guard after she allegedly took the bribe from someone in the Canadian pop star’s entourage, the Huffington Post (Canada) said.

The guard allegedly allowed two American members of Bieber’s entourage with criminal records to enter Canada.

“Foreigners with criminal convictions can be turned away from Canada. Bieber, who is facing criminal charges, can not be stopped from returning since he’s a Canadian citizen,” the story said.

One of the advantages of practicing immigration law is that I occasionally meet celebrities. As I write this column, I am thinking about U.S. bands I have represented that came to perform in Canada. They faced the same challenge that members of Justin Bieber’s entourage faced at the Ontario border: criminal records. The band members I represented had criminal convictions and needed permission to enter Canada to perform.

English: Justin Bieber at the Sentul Internati...

Justin Bieber (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This can be tough because, generally speaking, a criminal conviction makes it very difficult to cross the border. So the question is, what can be done to help a celebrity or band member with a conviction to come into Canada or travel down to the United States (without, that is, bribing border officials)?

In the case of Justin Bieber’s entourage, what they needed were Temporary Resident Permits to overcome their inadmissibility due to criminality. Usually this involves a lengthy application at one of the Canadian Consulates in the United States, and it’s the route I would recommend to anyone who has a record. However, Canadian border officials do have discretion in regard to such matters.

A border official’s discretion involves a checklist of sorts. To avoid being turned away at the border, band members with a record must show that they pose little or no risk to Canada, that the offences committed were of a less than serious nature and that there is a good reason why they are seeking entry.

According to news reports, Bieber’s entourage got a positive decision by offering a border official free tickets. How often does something like this go on? Who knows. But it raises one of the peculiarities of this area of immigration law: star struck officials influenced by fame and status.

Take Toronto Mayor Rob Ford. How was it possible for Mayor Ford, a publicly admitted drug user, to gain admission to the United States to appear on Jimmy Kimmel’s show earlier this year? The answer is that apart from the immigration checklist above, I believe that stardom and celebrity status influenced the decision. Would Joe Nobody get across the border after admitting to cocaine use in front of a border guard? The chances are extremely remote.

There are, however,  good reasons why border officials are likely to determine that a celebrity with a criminal record should be allowed into the country:

  • Prominent people are highly visible and therefore unlikely to commit criminal offences
  • The offences are invariably alcohol or drug abuse related and more minor in nature
  • The entertainers may be throwing a concert for thousands of people who have paid to see them
  • Local people have jobs that depend on the celebrity showing up

These considerations may lead a border official to decide that there is little harm in allowing the groups to enter for the limited purpose involved. In my view this is not preferential treatment, it is simply exercising good judgment in the circumstances of the case. It was this kind of calculation that I believe allowed Mayor Ford to go to Hollywood.

That said, discretion doesn’t include taking a bribe. The events surrounding Justin Bieber’s entourage and their free concert tickets may have created future problems for other celebrities who will seek to cross the border in the future. It will be interesting to see if this case, and the firing of the staff member, causes leery border officials to tighten up on who they let in the country, no matter how famous they are.

Hopefully officers on both sides of the border will know where to draw the line and not allow one bad incident to deter the normal ebb and flow of traffic across the U.S./Canadian border. Otherwise, we may have to get two tickets to see our favourite entertainers: one for the concert and one for the airplane.

Originally posted on: http://www.forbes.com/sites/andyjsemotiuk/2014/08/27/justin-bieber-immigration-and-celebrity-status/#358a3dad721f


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