Students learn U.S. immigration policies to develop understanding of immigration obstacles

A discussion of immigration policies in America invited students to learn about the process Wednesday in Twin Towers East’s lobby.

The event was organized by Isaac Larison, an associate professor in Marshall University’s Literacy Education Program. Larison said he wanted to sponsor the event as a way for students to better understand the obstacles that accompany immigrating to the United States.

“All [Americans], no matter viewpoint or education, have opinions and ideas that are often erroneous,” Larison said. “The best way around that is to actually talk with people and understand something about them.”

To educate attendees of the immigration process, Larison invited Paulus Wahjudi, interim director of Student Services in the College of Information, Technology and Engineering, and his wife, Maria Levina, to discuss their experiences of immigrating to America.

Wahjudi came to the United States through a student visa and attended the University of Southern Mississippi as an international student. Shortly after his arrival in the United States, he said the events of Sept. 11, 2001 completely changed his life.

“Even though I’m not Muslim, I still had to be checked by the government because I was from Indonesia,” Wahjudi said. “I had to complete a special registration which required me to go from Mississippi to Louisiana to get specially registered just because I was a male between 19 to 35. I had to be interviewed, give my finger prints and explain where I had been in the last five years.”

Although 17 years have passed since he initially had to be specially registered, Wahjudi said his status as an Indonesian immigrant still requires him to participate in thorough checks when he travels.

“Every time I leave the country I can only leave from certain ports, and I have to meet an officer to report to them that say that I’m actually leaving the country,” Wahjudi said. “Once I return to the country I have to go through another special registration.”

After he received his master’s degree, a career opportunity led Wahjudi to Marshall where the university agreed to sponsor his immigration through a work visa.

“It’s not easy to get a sponsorship,” Wahjudi said. “In order for me to receive a work visa, Marshall had to prove that I’m the most qualified person for the position. The university then had to send a letter to the Department of Labor to prove that I was the most qualified and deserved the job more than the other applicants.”

Wahjudi said that period of his life was daunting, but he was able to get the job and receive his work visa.

“It was a really long process for me to get a job and a visa that was only good for three years,” Wahjudi said. “The one thing that it made me realize was that anyone who is going to immigrate legally is going to have a hard time.”

Eventually, he was able to achieve his full residency as an American citizen, but he must wait five years before he can sponsor his wife Levina.

Levina, who also grew up in Indonesia, attained her master’s degree for psychology in Indonesia before opening her own practice. In 2014, she met Wahjudi and said she decided to leave her life behind to become a wife in the United States.

“[Immigrating] was hard because I had a good career in Indonesia,” Levina said. “I had to apply for two visas just to come to America, a tourist and a student visa.”

Additionally, Levina said she persuaded her mother, father and sister to also apply for visas, so they could immigrate to American as a family. She said that because her mother and father are older, they were awarded visas, but her sister was denied.

“Because my sister and I are in a productive age it’s hard for us to receive a visa. For me, I was lucky to have enough money to immigrate as well as a letter of recommendation,” Levina said.

Even though the couple has begun creating a new life in America as a couple, because Wahjudi has not been an official citizen for five years, he said the government is unable to recognize his marriage to Levina.

“Because she is here through a student visa and I am an official resident under five years, we are technically both single. I won’t be able to sponsor her and have a legally recognized marriage until those five years have passed,” Wahjudi said.

Looking back at the obstacles that accompanied his immigration to the United States, Wahjudi said he would suggest for international students to think carefully about potentially coming to America legally.

“Immigrating to the United States depends on if you have something to go back to,” Wahjudi said. “If you’re having a bad time in your country and have nothing that you’d miss, starting a new life in America may be worth all the work.”

Joelle Gates can be contacted at [email protected]