MILLEDGEVILLE — Most 20-year-old college students think they face tough struggles maintaining a solid GPA or even planning their next birthday bash. One Georgia College student's green card situation could mean something far more serious come the age of 21.
Lauren Bell moved to the United States nine years ago when her father Kevin accepted a job with SGD North America. Along with her mother and younger sister Emily, 17, Bell is on an H4 visa, while her father has a HB1.
Kevin's employer sponsored the family green card. In 2009, the green card was denied after five years of processing. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) found fault in the original job application's wording.
The three females aren't able to work because of the visa, which places a great strain on the family. Bell pays out-of-state tuition at Georgia College despite legally living in Madison since 2003.
If nothing changes in the green card application process, Bell won't be allowed to legally stay in the country after her Jan. 28 birthday. Staying means she will never receive a green card, would not be able to re-enter the U.S. for 10 years and could jeopardize her parents' status.
“Unless you've reached a certain point in the green card process when you've reached the age of 21, its called ageing out. You aren't eligible to stay,” Kevin said.
Being forced to return to England would be devastating, according to Bell. She has friends and an overall comfort in small town Georgia life.
Unless the law changes or the green card finds its way through the USCIS, Bell said she would self-deport after her 21st birthday.
Currently, the Bell family continues attracting as much attention as possible. High school friends supply Bell with support. Others have reached out to various media outlets spreading the word.
Senator Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson are assigned caseworkers trying get a resolution, according to Bell's father.
One of the most frustrating points for Bell is the DREAM Act. She qualifies for every portion of the legislation permitting conditional permanent residency including a high school diploma, current age and years spent in the U.S.
The only catch is the DREAM Act covers illegal not legal immigrants.
Two weeks ago, a second I-140 petition to apply for a green card was approved. Bell's father isn't sure what this means for the situation since it takes at least four years for the visa number to come up.
Immediate tuition expenses likely mean this fall is the final college semester for Bell unless classified as a Georgia resident. The 20-year-old's advertising and product marketing aspirations might be delayed.
The family realized they could appeal the first green card application to push onward. Bell said a mistake was made, so an expedited approval would keep her in the states.
Bell wants the law changed for her sister's sake and others in a similar predicament because of a “broken” immigration system.
Kevin said he would continue the argument on his daughter's behalf.
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