Sunday, June 12, 2011

Libyan students in U.S. granted special relief (The Oklahoman)

Libyan students in U.S. granted special relief

Published: June 11, 2011

NORMAN — Tarek Hodairi rides his bike as often as possible to avoid using his car.

He doesn't use air conditioning as much as he used to.

When his lease is up, he plans to move his wife and their two young children to a cheaper apartment. If their situation doesn't improve, Hodairi might even sell the family's car.

But action taken this week by the U.S. government could help his situation.

Hodairi, a doctoral student at the University of Oklahoma, was sponsored to come to the United States by the Libyan government. Last month, he and other Libyan students received the last scheduled disbursement of their monthly stipends.

After turmoil erupted in Libya, the U.S. froze offshore Libyan assets. The U.S. later authorized some of that money to be released to Libyan students, but the Libyan government has not released the funds to the U.S.

That has left about 2,000 Libyan students in the U.S. scrambling to find ways to support themselves or their families and wondering if or when they will receive additional money.

Options for some students could improve because U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement on Thursday eased work and study requirements for Libyan students who have faced economic hardships because of unrest in their home country.

Qualifying students can now reduce their course loads and work more hours, including at off-campus jobs.

The special relief is scheduled to end Dec. 31.

Special relief is sometimes granted during extreme circumstances. Students from Haiti were granted special relief in 2010, and students from five Asian countries were granted special relief in 1998, said Mariana Mircheva, an international student adviser at OU.

Before the special relief was granted, some Libyan students had applied for work authorization based on economic hardship. They are waiting to hear back about those applications, Mircheva said.

Applying for special relief is a much faster process because schools can authorize it, Mircheva said.

“I think this will be a great help,” she said.

To qualify for special relief, Libyan students must have been legally living in the United States on Feb. 1 and must be enrolled at a school that is certified by ICE's Student and Exchange Visitor Program.

Until recently, Hodairi has received monthly stipend of nearly $2,300 from the Libyan government. Now he is getting by with $1,500 a month he makes as a research assistant at OU.

Job hunt goes on

He scours the Internet for hours every day looking for jobs.

Hodairi said some of his friends who thought they would have to leave the U.S. are now hoping to find jobs using the special relief that will allow them and their families to stay.

But finding a job could be difficult, said Salah Abdalhfed, 35, a recent Oklahoma City University graduate.

“There are a lot of people who are looking for jobs,” Abdalhfed said.

He's been looking for a while. The Libyan government sponsored Abdalhfed and his wife to come to the U.S. for school. Abdalhfed said his wife is one course away from graduating from OCU.

Until recently, their family has received a monthly stipend of about $2,300 from the Libyan government. They had a little money saved that they've been using this month to support their four children, ages 6 and younger. But it won't last long.

Abdalhfed said he's not sure how they will manage next month. He worries about what will happen if one of his children gets sick and needs to go to the doctor.

“I hope things get better, but for now, it's hard,” Abdalhfed said.

OCU has been extremely supportive, Abdalhfed said. He and his family are planning to move into campus housing later this month.

The university has deferred campus housing and tuition charges for affected Libyan students over the next couple months. If funding is not restored to students by August, the university will re-examine the circumstances.

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