OKC Philharmonic violinist Angelica Pereira gets a new opportunity in complex immigration case
A version of this story appears in Saturday's The Oklahoman. To read my previous story about Angelica Pereira's immigration case, click here.
OKC violinist Angelica Pereira gets another chance in complex immigration case
After weeks of struggling with immigration issues complicated by a global pandemic, Angelica Pereira finally got news that was music to her ears.
Rep. Kendra Horn announced Friday that she has secured a review of the Oklahoma City violinist and music teacher's denied application for permanent residency.
A native of Colombia, Pereira was left in an impossible position in August when the coronavirus pandemic turned her path to U.S. citizenship into a dead end. A violinist with the Oklahoma City Philharmonic and music teacher at nonprofit El Sistema Oklahoma, Pereira's application for permanent residency was denied, her work visa expired, and she was legally required to leave the U.S. and return to her native country - which she couldn't do because international flights to Colombia had been grounded due to COVID-19.
“Angélica is truly a treasure and asset to Oklahoma and our nation. Her talent and contributions to the Oklahoma City Philharmonic and her service to our community are unmatched. We are fortunate she has chosen to call our state home. I’m pleased we were able to help successfully secure a review of her visa denial and will continue to do all we can to assist her in this process,” Horn said in a statement.
Like the pandemic that has so complicated her efforts, Pereira said having U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services reopen her case in this way is practically unprecedented.
"It's very rare that the USCIS gets to reopen a petition like this without the petitioner filing for an appeal or motion to reopen and reconsider, which those take months, years even, the normal way, without a politician's support," Pereira said. "Congresswoman Horn (and) her office have done just absolutely amazing. They check on me all the time, and I believe they've done everything that is in their power. And they've come to this."
Pereira first came to the U.S. as a student in 2008, when she received a full scholarship to Oklahoma City University. The Colombian violinist spent 10 years on a student visa, earning two bachelor's degrees and a master's degrees.
She has worked for seven years as a lead teaching artist at El Sistema Oklahoma, an after-school program that teaches music to underserved Oklahoma City Public Schools students, and has performed for a decade with the Oklahoma City Philharmonic.
The last two years, she has lived in the U.S. on a work visa, but after 12 years of living in America - all in Oklahoma City - Pereira said she wanted to take the next step to citizenship: applying for a green card and becoming a permanent resident. If her application was approved, she would need to live in the U.S. for five more years and then apply for citizenship.
But artists like Pereira can face specific roadblocks to citizenship because most of them are gig workers. She couldn't apply for an EB-3 green card for employment-based permanent residency because she doesn't have a full-time job. El Sistema Oklahoma is a nonprofit after-school program, and OKC Philharmonic members work on contract.
"Those are dream jobs, the only downside is that they are not full time. So, they could not sponsor me for that secure track to permanent residency," Pereira said.
So, Pereira tried for an EB-1 visa, which grants permanent residency for applicants with extraordinary abilities in the arts, sciences or other fields. Her application included letters of support from Horn and Sen. Jim Inofe, details on her work with El Sistema Oklahoma and her role as principal second violinist on Gabriela Montero's Latin Grammy-winning classical album.
Her application was denied, but she didn't get her response back until Aug. 28. Her work visa expired Aug. 10. She was supposed to leave the country, but couldn't get any flights to Colombia because of COVID-19.
“Angélica is an example of how our immigration system often falls short — she did everything by the book but fell through a crack in the system," Horn said in a statement. "I was honored to write a letter of support for Angélica’s initial EB1 petition and am proud we were able to work with her to re-open her case.
Angélica’s talent makes her unique, but many other immigrants like her pay taxes and contribute to our economy and cultural life. They are doing it right and we should be making it easier, not harder, to stay in the country they call home.”
After phone call with Pereira last month, Horn contacted USCIS to request a request for review in the musician's case. The case was reviewed by an official who determined that it will be reopened by USCIS.
For Pereira, her next step to obtaining will be to fill out a request for evidence.
"It's like 15 pages long, which means it has to be studied very well for me to find the best way to resubmit that evidence and add whatever more evidence I can find to make my case stronger in their eyes," Pereira said. "I'm going to be reading it in detail and consulting with my legal advisers and lawyers. ... We want to make it as a strong as possible; we cannot risk this. This is a huge opportunity and a very unique one. So, it has to be absolutely perfect."
In addition, Pereira said she also has applied for an O-1 artist visa, which would allow her to stay in the country for three years while continuing to work toward her permanent residency.
"This would provide me, hopefully, with the opportunity to go back to work at the philharmonic and at El Sistema soon ... because it's being filed with expediated processing," Pereira said.
Although her situation has not yet been resolved, Pereira said having a pending case allows her to stay in the U.S. and focus on continuing to work toward U.S. citizenship rather than struggling to book one of the limited flights back Colombia.
Along with Horn's help, Pereira said she couldn't continue her immigration journey without the community support she has received, including a showcase on OKC Mayor David Holt's "City Hall Sessions" video series, a Change.org petition that has garnered 3,900 signatures and, especially, a GoFundMe fundraiser that reached its $15,000 goal.
"It's because of the community that I'm able to even be here still and that I'm able to pay for that artist visa (application). ... Where would I be able to get that money from if it wasn't for the GoFundMe? ... And I've been limbo without being able to work, so that has allowed me to pay my mortgage and bills," Pereira said.
"Without God, first, of course, and then God working through the community and the people that have reached out to me ... I don't know where I would be."