Harvard International Student Recently Stranded Abroad Now Committed to Helping Immigrants Navigate Difficult System

As an international undergraduate student at Harvard University studying abroad, Lavinia Teodorescu found herself a woman without a country in March when her semester in Denmark was cut short due to the pandemic.

Teodorescu, age 20, was then informed that her academic program, which was set to run from January through May, had been cancelled, and that she would need to leave Denmark the following Friday. She also learned that her home country of Romania had closed its borders, and that she would be unable to enter it because her health insurance is only valid in the U.S. Teodorescu was eventually allowed to live in the UK because of the nation’s relationship with Harvard until she could return to Denmark earlier this week.

“It really resonated with me that when [Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) – a U.S. immigration policy that grants temporary immunity to certain individuals who came to the country illegally as children] tried to dismantle, a lot of people had to renew immediately,” Teodorescu said during a virtual call Monday from Denmark, where she had returned to collect her belongings before traveling back to Romania to await the fall semester. “It was a matter of weeks where they would be deported, so every day and every moment mattered. For me, I had to [resolve my situation] that day.”

Experiencing this dilemma firsthand led Teodorescu to join the newly established Immigrants Like Us – a nonprofit made up of lawyers and technologists who offer predominantly low-income individuals pro bono assistance in preparing their immigration application forms. Besides Teodorescu, who holds an F-1 visa as an international student at Harvard, the nonprofit also includes Fernando Urbina, a Harvard student whose parents are immigrants from Mexico; Yao Yin, Harvard student who is an immigrant from China; and Jonathan Petts, the team’s attorney whose wife is an immigrant from Romania. 

Teodorescu likens the services that Immigrants Like Us offers to those of Turbo Tax, such as answering simple questions for users and helping them prepare forms before returning “the whole package” to them with step-by-step instructions on how to file the paperwork.

And for those users who would prefer to fill out the forms themselves, the nonprofit offers links to resources on its website, such as a DACA renewal guide, as well as a Green Card renewal guide.

Since its January inception, Immigrants Like Us has assisted a few hundred in navigating the immigration process, beginning with DACA and first-time applications. The group’s work grew to include helping 150 “Dreamers,” whose individual DACA status was uncertain, within the last two weeks.

“Now that they can renew DACA, a lot of people have applied [for our services],” Teodorescu said.

In the future, Immigrants Like Us plans to help users navigate the Violence Against Women Act as well, she said.

Meanwhile, Teodorescu is encouraged by the Trump Administration’s reversal on its stance last week that will now allow international students to reenter the U.S. to study, even if they are only attending classes remotely.

“The Trump Administration took a big step forward in international politics with that,” she said. Visit https://www.immigrantslikeus.org to learn more about Immigrants Like Us and the pro bono services it offers, including its DACA renewal guide (https://www.immigrantslikeus.org/immigration-resources/how-to-renew-your-daca-2020). Teodorescu’s bio page can also be viewed at https://www.immigrantslikeus.org/our-team-1.

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