UI student running into visa deadline

Laurens van Beek and his father Harold at the family's jewelry store in North Liberty.  Laurens...
Laurens van Beek and his father Harold at the family's jewelry store in North Liberty. Laurens turns 21 in July and could face having to return to the Netherlands, a country he hasn't seen since he was 7 years old.(KCRG)
Published: Feb. 2, 2018 at 5:28 PM CST
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Imagine coming to the U.S. as a 7-year-old child on a visa and then being forced to leave the country just because you turn 21. One Iowa City family says that’s the situation they face over the coming year.

Harold van Beek came to the U.S., and eventually Iowa, first as an exchange visitor and then as the holder of an E-2 visa. That’s a status for foreign residents who start or invest in a new business and hire U.S. workers. It covers van Beek, his wife Astrid and son Laurens.

Van Beek, along with his wife, own and operate Jewelry by Harold in North Liberty.

But Laurens, who is now 20, turns 21 in July. And under the visa rules, Laurens van Beek may have to leave the U.S. and return to the Netherlands, a country he barely remembers because he would no longer be a dependent covered by his father’s visa status.

Laurens, a computer science major at the University of Iowa, learned the Dutch language from his parents at home.

But he considers himself an Iowan and, for a variety of reasons, going back to live there wouldn’t be easy.

“I would have to travel to the Netherlands and try to find a job there. Which is difficult when you don’t read or write the language very well,” Laurens van Beek said.

Harold van Beek said his E-2 visa status doesn’t allow him to apply for a permanent residency “green card” or his own citizenship which could help his son.

Harold van Beek said his son can probably get a foreign student visa to finish up his college work at Iowa.

That would push off the deadline until May of 2019.

“2019 for now and then it’s the end of the line. Then he’s got 30 days to leave the country,” Harold van Beek said.

Laurens said, in the meantime, the visa restrictions limit just what he can do to support himself here. His visa status as a dependent doesn’t even allow him to get a Social Security card.

“I cannot work fulltime. Under a student visa, I can work 20 hours on campus and that’s it. But I can’t go to Hy-Vee or the Fareway and get a job to build my own income or something like that,” he said.

“Harold van Beek says he’s reached out to Iowa’s Congressional delegation to see if there is any way political leaders can help.

He heard from a staffer at Joni Ernst’s office, but got no specific advice.

As a computer science major, it’s possible his son could qualify for a type of internship program available when he graduates that would allow him to remain for up to 27 months.

And, if that happens, it’s also possible his employer could ask him to stay on beyond the internship period and even sponsor Laurens for a visa to remain as a permanent worker.

But the family says that’s a lot of ifs and no guarantees.