Australia denies visas over concerns about open source? WTF? UPDATED

I’ve just been alerted via a Linux.conf.au mailing list to a ridiculous situation  – apparently the Australian government has overzealously been patrolling its borders against the scourge of… open source technology.

According to Finnish MySQL developer Kaj Arnö, this policy will prevent several MySQL people from attending LCA this year:

“Several Sun Microsystems Inc employees, especially related to the Database Group, have been denied short stay business visas to Australia, over the last few months, as they have been seen to be competing with local Australian businesses unfairly.

I regret to share that this will adversely affect MySQL presence at linux.conf.au in Hobart, Tasmania 19-24.1.2009.”

You can read the full post here – and note that he says he’s observed or experienced open source people having trouble getting Schengen (European Union) and US visas in the past as well.

How crazy. On so many levels. One -this sounds remarkably like the government discriminating against people due to their choice of technology. Do they really have big business in their ear that much? And it ignores the fact that open source technology and business generates an estimated $500 million for Australian businesses each year – you could argue this policy is restraint of trade, rather than protective of it. And it’s just offensive that our government is actively preventing people from gathering together for the purpose of freely sharing information.

I’m not sure what we can do to help fix this – LCA starts in 6 days.

Update: 9.48am, 14 January 2009

Kaj Arnö has updated his original blog post to admit that the link between the visa being denied and open source was conjecture on his part:

“The rejection letter merely says “SHORT TERM BUSINESS ETA APPLICATION WAS NOT APPROVED NO AUTHORITY TO TRAVEL TO AUSTRALIA HELD BY PASSENGER”. However, the person who now got rejected has been frequently in Australia and, to the best of my knowledge, lacks any record which would imply a visa rejection (such as, but not limited to, unpaid traffic fines).”

Read his updated post and the long discussion in comments for further info. Thanks Jacinta for alerting me to the update.

5 Comments

  1. Hamish Moffatt Said,

    January 12, 2009 @ 10:26 pm

    I believe you’ve reached several unfounded conclusions here. We don’t really know why the visas were denied.

    We don’t know that it has anything to do with open source. I can’t see why it would (and indeed the immigration officials may not even know what open source is).

    We don’t know that the visas were solely for the purpose of attending linux.conf.au. If these same applicants were going to deliver training or do other work that could be done by Australian residents then visas usually would be denied.

    We certainly don’t know that our government is actively trying to derail linux.conf.au!

  2. Dave Bath Said,

    January 13, 2009 @ 4:45 am

    If this is true, it would be very interesting to know what the “competition” is.

    I cannot believe it is possibly a security issue, if these guys are senior developers employed by Sun…. with their systems embedded throughout government agencies worldwide.

  3. Jacinta Richardson Said,

    January 13, 2009 @ 7:42 am

    Kaj effectively retracts all his allegations in comment 31 in his blog at your above linked post. He admits:

    * the reasons for being refused were only conjecture on his behalf

    * NONE of his fellow employees had business (short stay) visas rejected late
    last year and that instead ONE employee had “just decided not to go”.

    * He’s grumpy because Australia denied entry to him for reasons he didn’t
    understand or didn’t personally approve of.

    * He has no reason to believe that there is any Australian anti-open-source
    conspiracy; and since the trip was related to a conference competition was
    unlikely to be a real concern.

    I think the main issue is that he booked flights, arranged the trip and has only
    just applied for the visa. He applied electronically and it was refused. He
    can and is welcome to apply through the regular channels, and there’s a good
    chance it’d probably be allowed, but he left the original application too late
    and so now he doesn’t have time. (FWIW leaving it too late is foolish, he could
    have applied 3 months ago (assuming he knew he’d get leave) and thus had time to re-apply if he was unsuccessful).

    I can understand ranting about how unfair it is that he can’t go to this awesomely cool conference, but I’m unimpressed that he’s slandered the whole Australian public service in this way as retaliation. It’s perhaps worse that so many open source advocates were willing to help make this into a bigger issue without waiting for more concrete information.

  4. Pyrmont Said,

    January 14, 2009 @ 2:18 am

    Could not the Conference Organisers, track down their local labor MP and seek representations post haste?

  5. Morgan Tocker Said,

    January 25, 2009 @ 8:19 pm

    Having been involved in this issue – here’s my take:
    http://mtocker.livejournal.com/48289.html