With the violence in Syria showing little sign of ending, Syrian nationals visiting the U.S. are worried about having to return to Syria once their American visas run out. The Obama Administration is considering a special protection status for Syrian nationals that would allow them to remain in the U.S. - until it’s safe for them to return home.
Syrian-Americans rallied again in Washington, last week, against the government of President Bashar al-Assad.
Many of them are worried their relatives and loved ones who have been in the United States on temporary visas will have to go back to Syria once their visas run out.
Among those at risk: Nassib Nwelati, a Syrian student here on a scholarship to study business.
“Many Syrians I know are scared to go back. They don’t know what to do. They have been so worried because not only you need to worry about what’s going on in Syria and watch the news and cry for these people. But also you need to worry about your status because the time is ticking, the clock is ticking,” Nwelati said.
Now help may be on the way. Voice of America has learned the Obama Administration is about to recommend what is called a “Temporary Protection Status” for Syrian nationals currently in the U.S.
If approved, the move would allow Syrian nationals already in the United States - on tourist, business, student and other such visas - to remain in the country, until the situation in Syria stabilizes and becomes safer for the nationals to go home.
Earlier this month, six Democratic senators sent a letter to President Obama calling on him to quickly designate Syrian nationals for the temporary protection status.
They say forcing Syrians to return to their country in the midst of ongoing violence would undermine U.S. leadership and is inconsistent with what they say is America’s traditional role as a safe haven for those fleeing repression.
Attorney Abed Ayoub is with the largest Arab-American civil rights organization in the U.S. He helped lead a coalition of groups to petition the Department of Homeland Security in January for the temporary protection status.
“The humanitarian situation on the ground in Syria is dire. And forcing anybody to return is inhumane. We can’t put these individual’s lives in jeopardy . If the U.S. State Department feels the embassy over there is not safe enough for their employees then, for sure, the country’s not safe enough for its nationals to return,” he said.
Data from the Department of Homeland Security’s immigration registry says there are about 3,000 Syrian nationals who would be eligible, although Arab-American activists say that number is much higher.
But for visiting Syrians like Nassib, the protection status may literally mean the difference between life and death.