BBC fight reporter KO'd in US visa row

Tough blow: Gearey received his marching orders before the Lewis fight

A BBC sports correspondent learnt a grim lesson after travelling to the US last weekend without a special media visa – he was detained for 25 hours and then deported.

Kevin Gearey travelled to Los Angeles to report on Lennox Lewis’s heavyweight championship fight, only to be faced with his own conflict, as US customs officials arrested him and subjected him to a grilling at the airport. They then deported him for not holding a journalist’s “I-visa”.

Gearey, who has covered Lewis’s fights as well as other sporting events in the US, was detained in what appears to be a clampdown on British journalists intent on working while in the US but not in possession of the I-visa.

Gearey had stated on the visa waiver form, handed out to all incoming non-US nationals, that he was visiting the country “for pleasure”. However, on being confronted by a customs officer at the barrier, Gearey admitted he was there to report on the Lewis fight. He was then handcuffed and taken to the airport’s detention centre by five guards, where he was grilled for nearly four hours.

“They took my mobile phone and said I could make a local call. So I called the BBC’s LA bureau and got a message back to London,” he told Press Gazette.

Finally, officials took Gearey – still handcuffed – to an awaiting plane bound for London.

“If there hadn’t been another plane to go back on, they would have transferred me to the LA County Jail because they wouldn’t have been allowed to detain me at the airport for more than one night,” he said.

Gearey’s deportation is the third known case of British journalists being deported from the US in the past month.

A team of four journalists attending a video games conference in LA were stopped and held after they were told their visa waivers were not valid. It is also understood that a group of British journalists attending an event in Pasadena have also been deported.

“I explained to one of the guards that I’d been twice to the US since September 11, and had no trouble at all. He said: ‘You shouldn’t have.'” Gearey said he had an I-visa about 10 years ago, but had not renewed it.

US immigration laws have maintained that foreign journalists have required an I-visa for at least 10 years, but enforcement has been less than rigorous until recently. An I-visa costs £67 and is valid for five years.

By Wale Azeez

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