As the North American Bitcoin Conference begins today in Miami, thousands of techies and enthusiasts are converging upon the city ready to learn all about the digital currency. But Roger Ver won't be coming.
Ver -- a 35-year-old, self-made millionaire -- was denied a U.S. visa, even though he was born and raised in Silicon Valley. But Ver renounced his citizenship in 2014, trading the Stars and Stripes for the small Caribbean island nation of Saint Kitts and Nevis.
Nicknamed the "bitcoin Jesus" for his relentless praise of wonders of the new currency, Ver also makes money trading bitcoin on an open market.
New Times reached out to the U.S. State Department for clarification why Ver was denied entry for this weekend's conference. A State Department official cited immigration privacy laws in declining to discuss exactly why he was denied entry.
"All visa applicants are welcome to reapply," the spokeswoman says in an email. "Visa applicants must meet the requirements set forth under U.S. Law in order to be issued a U.S. Visa."
According to Ver, the reason is clear: It's because his ties aren't strong enough with the Caribbean nation he now calls home. When he tried to apply for a visa through the embassy in Barbados three times, he was swiftly rejected each time, even though he paid $160 each time.
"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," according to the official embassy rejection that Ver provided to New Times. "You have demonstrated that you have the ties that will compel you to return to your home country after your travel to the United States."
Essentially, according to Ver, this means that U.S. officials are worried that he will overstay his visa and become an "illegal" citizen in his home country.
Ver says he renounced his citizenship to take a stand against sovereign governments. "I actually am philosophically opposed to the very concept of citizenship," Ver said in an email. "I think all human beings, regardless of where they happened to have been born, have an equal right to travel the planet."
(Of course, critics think he had a more expedient reason: Skirting U.S. taxes.)
Either way, there's no doubt Ver has been an important advocate for bitcoin, which emerged as a new form of currency sometime six years ago. The currency operates solely in the digital world, traded anonymously, privately and with no interference from an institution such as a bank. No one knows who created it (or whether it was a person or a group) but a white paper authored by Satoshi Nakamoto describing the new currency was published in 2009.
Bitcoin can pay for anything from a meal to clothes to illicit drugs from online marketplaces like the infamous Silk Road -- a fact that has led to law enforcement crackdowns and the arrest of two Miami men last year for money laundering with the currency.
To Ver, the benefits of bitcoin are multitude: "You can send any amount of money, anywhere in the world, instantly, at almost no cost, and it is impossible for anyone, including governments to block the payment."
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To demonstrate, Ver sent a New Times writer a small, anonymous payment of 0.27766235 bitcoins (which is worth about $60).
Ver is no doubt frustrated by his inability to get to Miami this weekend. All of his immediate family lives in the United States, yet it has become nearly impossible to see them. He says it's unfair the U.S. won't let him back in despite the clear evidence that he has no intention of staying.
"They refused to even allow me to slide the evidence through the window for their review," he says.