Roger Ver Bitcoin Passport

Known as “Bitcoin Jesus,” Roger Ver is kind of a big deal in crypto-currency circles. And yet, after renouncing his US citizenship in February 2014, Ver has been denied three applications for a non-immigrant visa to speak at CES and The North American Bitcoin Conference (TNABC) this month.

It’s a decision that leaves the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services looking like a vindictive, scorned ex-lover and highlights the arbitrary and often counter-productive nature of our immigration policies.

Ver has taken up citizenship in the Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis, a Caribbean nation, but lives primarily in Japan, where he has spent most of the last nine years. According to the Immigration Service, the issue is that Ver has not sufficiently established a life in Saint Kitts to demonstrate that he will choose to return there. His rejection letter reads:

One of the most common elements within the various nonimmigrant visa requirements is for the applicant to demonstrate that they have a residence in a foreign country which they have no intention of abandoning. Applicants to whom this requirement applies usually meet the requirement by demonstrating that they have strong ties overseas which would ensure their return to a foreign country after a temporary visit to the United States. Some of the ties that may be considered during the interview include professional, employment, educational, family or social linkages to a foreign country. You have not demonstrated that you have the ties that will compel you to return to your home country after your travel to the United States.

Ver has been active in the Reddit discussion surrounding his visa issues. Commenting under the username MemoryDealers (the name of his Japanese online business), he writes:

I’ve lived outside the USA for about 9 years now. I have family and friends in Japan now too. I’m sure I will never ever live in the USA again. Roger Ver

He later adds:

I still do live in Japan. My second home is in St Kitts. The US embassy refused to even allow me to slide my proof of ties to Japan under their window for them to review!

Complicating matters, Ver’s extended family, including his parents, siblings, and an uncle battling late-stage cancer all live in the US. This information, combined with the recency of his citizenship renouncement likely make Ver appear to be a high overstay risk. It also presumably doesn’t help that Ver is a known libertarian and anarchist who served 10-months in prison in the US nearly a decade ago for selling firecrackers online. He left the country voluntarily after that incident and spent the majority of the last nine years living in Japan, and has not visited the US in the last year – despite the deteriorating health of his uncle.

Poetically, Ver tweeted an image of a check he sent to the IRS on December 16 in the amount of $325,000 for taxes for the year 2013, alongside evidence of his visa denial. He also included a photo of him wearing a T-shirt that reads “borders are imaginary lines” that he frequently wears when passing through immigration check points.

While forcing me to pay taxes @USEmbassyBbdos tyrants won’t allow me to attend #CES2015, #TNABC or anything in the US

— Roger Ver (@rogerkver) January 6, 2015

Ver’s rejection letter states that it is not possible to appeal the decision, but that he can reapply with additional evidence to demonstrate his qualification. This would be his fourth attempt, at a cost of $160 per application. Unfortunately, it’s already too late for CES and TNABC begins in just 10 days in Miami.

It’s not uncommon that those renouncing US citizenship have a difficult time returning to the country. Presumably the objective is to avoid allowing these individuals to skirt paying US taxes while continuing to spend extended periods of time within the country. But Ver’s last decade of travel history and his recent comments suggest that he has no desire to live in the US.

A similar discussion erupted online after Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin (who was born in Brazil) renounced his own US citizenship and moved his family to Singapore. Congress even proposed something called the “Ex-PATRIOT” (aka, “Expatriation Prevention by Abolishing Tax-Related Incentives for Offshore Tenancy”) Act that would ban Saverin (and others percieved  leaving to avoid paying taxes) from ever returning to the US. While the proposed legislation caught headlines and spurred plenty of online discussion, it ultimately never ammounted to much.

Given his unique background and skill set, there seems to be a tangible benefit to having Ver participate in US conferences and conduct business within the country. He is already a regular at international bitcoin conferences and is also an active angel investor, including in several US bitcoin businesses such as BitPay, Kracken, Ripple Labs, and BitInstant. Ver is also a founding board member of the (often controvercial) Bitcoin Foundation. On the negative side, he strongly advocated for the solvency of Mt. Gox at a time when much of the industry was correctly predicting its imminent demise.

The Immigration Service has a difficult and necessary job, which includes balancing the benefits that immigrants can bring to this country with the natural and artificial constraints on the number of people it can support. In Ver’s case, the facts seem to align in his favor. But Immigration Services proved once again that the US has a long memory and knows how to hold a grudge.

[Image via Financial Post]

Michael Carney

Michael Carney_PandoDaily
Michael Carney is a West Coast Editor at PandoDaily, covering venture capital, financial technologies, ecommerce, on-demand services, and the future of television, among other subjects. He has spent his career exploring the world of early stage technology as an entrepreneur and early-stage investor, working in multiple countries within North and South America and Asia. He is an enthusiast of all things shiny and electronic and is inspired by those who build businesses and regularly tackle difficult problems. You can follow Michael on Twitter @mcarney.