Korean students enrolled in public high schools who are graduating this year but have expiring CW-2 visas will be allowed to remain on island provided they have filed a request for humanitarian parole with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
Federal Labor Ombudsman Pamela Brown Blackburn gave this assurance to members of the Korean Community of Saipan during a two-hour meeting Friday night at the Korean Community Center in San Antonio.
The meeting was called after the association was alerted by members that many seniors may not be able to finish their studies and attend their graduation in June following the expiration of their CW-2 visas after turning 18 years old.
Brown Blackburn, who declined to be interviewed after the meeting, assured parents of affected seniors that her office will continue to assist affected students but pointed out that she's “taking responsibility” only for those seniors who have pending requests for humanitarian parole with USCIS.
For other Korean students (freshmen, sophomore, and juniors in public schools), Brown Blackburn recommended that they transfer to private schools that accept student visas, or F-1, to avoid a similar problem.
She described the processing at USCIS as “very, very slow,” thereby hampering an immediate response to applications for humanitarian parole.
Brown Blackburn disclosed that she is directly communicating with USCIS Honolulu district director David Gulick on the issue about Korean students.
Early Friday morning, Korean senior James Ko flew to Korea after getting no response from his parole request. Ko had an expired CW-2 visa and was given only 10 days to stay in the CNMI. Afraid that this may affect his record and hamper his plans to go to the U.S. mainland and continue his studies abroad, Ko decided to leave the island and just take his high school courses online until graduation.
Last Friday, Ko's mother became emotional upon hearing that her son would have been able to stay on island until graduation because he has a pending parole request. The mother told Saipan Tribune that the family decided to go ahead with Ko's departure after they failed to meet with Brown Blackburn when they went to her office to seek for help. “We were informed that she's very busy,” the mother said.
Saipan Tribune learned that Ko is a member of the popular Manta Ray Band that flew to the London Olympics last year. He was interviewed at the U.S. Embassy in London where he was given a CW-2 visa with a February 2012 expiration date. Compared to other Korean students who had their CW-2 interview at the U.S. Embassy in Korea, the expiration of their visas coincides with the expiration of their parents' CW visa.
Saipan Tribune learned that Ko's parents tried to obtain an F1 visa for him but by the time Ko came back from London, the semester had already began and they couldn't find a private school that would accept him, according to the mother.
“My son had to leave Saipan [last Friday] to avoid becoming an illegal alien. If he were given only a few more months [in his CW-2], he'd have graduated with no problem and gone on to the U.S. for college education with an F1 status,” said the mother.
She admitted that they have yet to identify plans on how their son can return. Ko's family has been on Saipan for 10 years with legal status. She said these changes in the immigration system caused their family both economic and mental stresses.
Meantime, attorney Mun Su Park, who attended the meeting, described the humanitarian parole as “very discretional.”
He's elated by the assurance that graduating Korean students can still stay but he cannot assure anything on James Ko's case.
Eighteen-year-old Eunice Park said Friday that she is now a bit relieved after getting confirming from Brown Blackburn that her stay on Saipan remains “lawful.”
Park is a holder of a CW-2 visa and a senior at Marianas Baptist Academy. She plans to fly to Korea in summer to apply for an F1 visa to continue her studies on island. Park is, however, concerned about the situation of her fellow students in public schools who may find it difficult to move to private schools due to associated costs, credit problems, and other issues.
“I think these immigration issues don't care about senior students because what we're getting are different answers to questions. For me, this issue about students is a serious case that the USCIS should consider because it's about our future,” she told Saipan Tribune.
NMC student Su Jin Jeon, who also attended Friday's meeting, said this is “a really serious matter and I want to help my brother and other affected students in public high schools. All we want is to allow them to graduate this year and so they can leave the island peacefully. We want to make sure that this immigration issue won't affect their plans in the future when they decide to study in the States,” she said.
Her brother has a pending parole request filed with USCIS last Jan. 7.