Many Korean students in public high schools are in distress due to their unsettled immigration status that will prevent them from graduating, just a few months before the end of the school year.
James Ko, a senior at Saipan Southern High School, said he will miss the most exciting moment in his life due to uncertainties and hassles arising from immigration issues.
Ko is a holder of CW-2 visa that expired last week. Tonight, he is set to fly back to Korea and where he will continue to take his high school credits online. He has no choice. The federal immigration office gave him only 10 days-upon the expiration of his visa-to leave the island.
Ko, who has been studying on island since third grade, turned 18 last Feb. 22. Pursuant to federal immigration rules, a CW-2 visa can only be provided to CW-1 dependent-children below 18 years of age. Although the same federal rule allows foreign students to stay and study here using an F-1 visa, Ko said this option-if he decides to take it-will prolong his high school graduation because the Public School System carries different subjects and requirements for graduation. F-1 visa applies to foreign students in private schools.
“This is besides the fact that it will be costly to transfer to private schools at this time,” said Ko yesterday.
He disclosed that there are 15 other Korean high school students at PSS that he knows of who are in a similar situation or are being challenged by the CW-2 issue.
“Despite the fact that we are encumbering various disadvantages for not being a U.S. citizen, the students are giving an absolute effort in accomplishing a successful academic career in high school. We would like to request for another approach that will enable us to continue staying on Saipan with alternative legal status,” he added.
Yelin Lee, 17, is a junior at Saipan Southern High. Next year, she expects to get her diploma and attend graduation. Yesterday, she admitted that she fears being deported before that day. Lee will turn 18 on Dec. 23, 2013, which will automatically render her CW-2 visa invalid.
“I really worked hard for my high school and I am just disappointed that we have to deal with these [immigration] challenges. My studies really matter to me. It's very discouraging and hindering us from attaining our educational goals,” she told Saipan Tribune. A worst-case scenario for her is going back to South Korea. Lee has been studying in the CNMI for 11 years now.
Like Ko, Lee is hopeful that “something” can be worked out soon to address the situation of foreign students who only desire to study here.
Meantime, 18-year-old Dooyong Lee, also from SSHS, was fortunate to secure a “humanitarian parole” that would allow him to stay until his graduation in June this year. But he is also wary of what will happen after this temporary permit to stay expires. Lee is a senior and turned 18 last year.
Korean Community in the CNMI chair Dyungsoo Jeon confirmed with Saipan Tribune yesterday the “serious situation” of many of their Korean students. He estimates that there are less than 30 who have similar concerns. A meeting, he said, will be called this week to talk with the students, parents, and lawyers that may help them find a solution.