The visit from Boryspil students is a go.
After denying visas for 17 youth and three chaperones from Hopkins’ sister city back in August, the State Department changed its position and granted visas to the group Thursday. Now the Ukrainian visitors are scrambling to get tickets for a four-week visit targeted to begin Oct. 29.
“We’re very excited No. 1—overwhelmed No. 2,” joked Irina Fursman, vice president of executive search firm Brimeyer Fursman and one of the sister city organizers.
The State Department originally denied the visa request because it said the group needed student exchange visas instead. Those visas are more expensive and require going through an organization specially licensed as “Student and Exchange Visitor Program certified.”
Organizers said that type of visa doesn’t apply to the civic leadership program. While students do take part in school activities, studying in school is not the emphasis. The Boryspil visitors will participate in civic leadership development activities and share their perspectives, hopes and challenges with the Minnesota youth.
Immigration attorney Elizabeth Tolzmann, who’s also Brooklyn Park’s community engagement coordinator, took on the case pro bono—arguing that the original visas were the correct ones.
The State Department requested a letter from the school district confirming that the students wouldn’t receive school credits. In the end, it decided to grant the original visa request.
“Basically, we laid out the case and sent it over to the ambassador,” Fursman said.
The last-minute approval has created a few challenges. One visiting student and two host families had to drop out.
But the timing should allow cultural experiences that couldn’t have occurred with the original Sept. 15 to Oct. 13 timeline. The Ukrainian students will be will be able to experience Halloween, Election Day and Thanksgiving.
“They’re happy and excited,” Fursman said.