The priest of the Serbian Orthodox Church from Nashville, Aleksandar Vujković, will be expelled from America, even though he has lived there for years, had a visa, and respects all laws.
Vujković first came to the United States in 2009 as a theology student in Illinois.
After four years of study, he graduated from the faculty in 2013 and returned to Serbia. He got married in his homeland and returned to America to take over the parish and start a family.
Since 2014, he has been living in Nashville, where he became the first priest of the Serbian Orthodox Church with a permanent residence, and he also participated in the construction of the church of St. Petka. As he said, he respects local laws and immigration rules throughout his stay in America, however, he must now leave the United States.
“I did everything according to the law, I was registered as a taxpayer, I work …”, says Vujković.
However, he must now leave the United States by August 16, he says, because of his lawyer’s mistake.
“It’s hard for me to accept that, but it’s a reality and I don’t want to be illegal in the United States. “I wanted everything to be according to the law, so I will have to return to Serbia, and then I will apply for a green card,” said Vujković.
The priest says that his lawyer forgot to submit his work visa approved for priests in the application for the green card. As a result, he was denied a visa extension in February, so the six-month deportation period began.
Vujković subsequently filed an appeal and a new visa application, but it was rejected.
Robert Blagojevic, the president of the church board of the Church of St. Petka, says that the immigration lawyers told him that the priest would have to return to Serbia.
“When you look at our immigration system, it can be said that it is defective. We have a man in our community who is responsible, who respected the law, believed in it, did everything right … The lawyer made a mistake, and now that man has been punished, “says Blagojević.
He adds that he also tried to reach President Donald Trump to see if he could do something because the leaders of Congress told him that they could not influence the immigration system.
Blagojević explains that the believers who come to the church are mostly refugees from Bosnia and people who fled Serbia during the wars of the 1990s. He adds that despite the expulsion of priests, they will continue to hold liturgies and hope that some of the SOC priests will temporarily take over the parish.
“We did everything we could in the previous months and at one point we realized that we were fighting against the government of the United States of America,” Blagojević says.
Father Vujković states that he and his wife and three children will leave America before the scheduled deadline on August 16, so that he can find flights to Serbia because many of them have been canceled due to the pandemic.
“It is very difficult for me to explain to the children that they will not be able to bring all the toys to Serbia,” says Vujković, adding that it is especially difficult for him to leave the church community in Nashville.
“That church is a part of me. And that parish is a part of me, my children were born in Nashville. Our parish, it is one big family, we know each other well, we spend time with each other … “, says Vujković.
According to the immigration service, the priest is legally in the country until August 16, but they could not specify what would happen if the United States remained after that deadline.