The Immigration Journey of Br. Peduru Fonseka
My immigration story started in 2002 when I decided to come to United States from Sri Lanka to do my higher studies. Even applying for a Student visa was not easy. There was much paperwork and proofs of financial support and so many other documents I had to present to the embassy to get my F1 visa. I remember sitting there in the waiting room very nervous for the first time for the visa interview. Out of the thirty or so people who showed up that morning for visa interviews, there were only three of us who got their visas. I felt like I was lucky to receive my student visa in my first try.
Then, during my college years as a student, I always had to make sure I took at least 12 credit hours each semester to keep my immigration status in good standing. From the start, I knew being in another country away from my home is not easy. There was a certain amount of pressure and challenges of being an immigrant in a foreign country. Coming to United States in 2002, I did not expect to live here forever. I thought I would finish my Engineering Studies and gain some work experience and go back home to Sri Lanka. Since in my family it was only me and my older sister, I always felt like it was my duty to take care of my parents one day when they get older.
However, as God always has his plans for each of us, during my college years, I start developing a desire for the priesthood and religious life. After spending some time discerning my vocation, I finally decided to take the next step and answer God's call for me to be a Benedictine monk. When I contacted the vocation directors, Fr. Anthony and Br. John Mark at Saint Meinrad, I explained to them that I am an international who was working fulltime with an H1B visa at that time. The monastery did not have any experience in quite a while with a situation where they accepted a foreign national. So it was a new experience for both Br. John Mark, as a new Vocation Director at the time, and me. At the start of my discernment, I prayed to God and said I have no clue where you are taking me right now, but I am offering this whole process to your hands and I know you will take care of everything.
When I transferred my immigration status from F1 to H1B, it was a more tedious application process than a simple F1 student visa. Therefore, I expected that getting an R1 visa could be even more tedious and much paperwork.
After some research, Br. John Mark found out about CLINIC. He took the initiative to contact the excellent lawyers at CLINIC and they helped us to gather the required documents to file for an R1 visa. I felt like God answered my prayers. CLINIC took care of all the legal paperwork and the application process for us. It helped me to put my energy and due attention for my discernment into the religious life rather than being busy and worried about a mountain load of paperwork and legal matters. The CLINIC lawyers were very organized and took care of the application process in a timely manner. At one point of my R1 Visa, the INS took longer time to reply than we expected. The lawyers from CLINIC stayed on top of my application status by communicating back and forth with the state officials.
Then, when the government decided to send a letter that they intended to deny my application, the lawyers from CLINIC assured me that everything will be fine and they will do what is needed to take care of the matter. CLINIC did provide more information as the government requested and finally I was cleared to join the monastery in May 2011. Then the monastery decided that they would sponsor me for the next step of the process, which was getting my green card. So we contacted our lawyer, Ms. Megan Turngren in CLINIC, to ask for their help with this immigration process.
As usual, even with the green card process, CLINIC helped us from the beginning to the end. They always kept both Br. John Mark and me updated on the process. They were very thorough with the paperwork and very organized. The monastery and I did not have to worry about anything other than just getting the necessary documents to the CLINIC lawyers and putting our signatures on the application forms. It did ease the trouble of legal matters.
I am thankful for the legal team in CLINIC for their efficient work and their excellent service. Thanks to their hard work, after twelve years of being an international, I finally received my green card on February of this year.