US immigration policy change after Ebola oubreak confuses West Africans

The US government will offer temporary immigration relief to people from Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, where a serious Ebola outbreak has killed more than 1,500 people.

Immigrant services providers in greater Philadelphia say they’re seeing widespread confusion among local residents from those three countries about the scope of the changes.

Under the changed US Customs and Immigration Services (USCIS) policy, students, for example, or travelers who entered the U.S. on business visas won’t be forced to return to a dangerous situation.

The agency continuously monitors conditions around the world, says spokeswoman Anita Moore, and in this case determined that the severity of the Ebola outbreak merited a change in policy.

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“USCIS will work to provide relief to those that are here so they don’t have to rush back to their country just because their visa has expired if it’s safer for them to be here,” she said.

The African Cultural Alliance of North America, which serves mostly West Africans in West Philadelphia, has been receiving calls and visits since the announcement of the changes. 

“Folks are getting really bad information and they’re hearing that certain benefits are available which are just patently false,” said Chioma Azi, a staff attorney for the group.

Commonly, Azi says, people have thought they could obtain green cards to stay indefinitely. She says immigrants who’ve often been hoping for permission to remain in the U.S. are eager to believe in the best case scenario.

“You always have that group of folks who because of status and being out-of-status or being on the borderline, there’s a hopefulness whenever there’s an immigration announcement, whatever it is,” Azi said. “There’s always just this hope that maybe this is going to save my situation or fix my situation.”

ACANA hosted a presentation by a staff member of USCIS Wednesday night to provide more of the facts to community members.

West Africans who want to stay here longer have to apply to USCIS and applications will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

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