East Manatee students, Florida residents for 10 years on parents' visa, can't qualify for full in-state tuition

srocco@bradenton.comJune 29, 2014 

EAST MANATEE -- They quit their post office jobs in England, tucked away their severance checks and came to the United States to satisfy sun-kissed dreams of beach and business.

In 2004, Rod and Sue Pashley bought a $350,000 home in GreyHawk Landing before enrolling their son and daughter at Gene Witt Elementary and buying a pool- cleaning business.

Their kids, Alex and Georgia, grew up in the Manatee County School District and aspired to attend Valencia Community College in Orlando and then the University of Central Florida. They took their SATs and ACTs, enrolled in AP classes and maintained stellar grades in hopes of getting scholarships.

But Alex and Georgia were stopped short when they began the college application process and learned they would not qualify for in-state tuition for all four years of college, since they are in the United States on non-immigrant E-2 visas.

At this point, Alex, 20, and Georgia, 18,

have two options: Pay out-of-state tuition -- or marry Americans.

After Gov. Rick Scott signed legislation this month allowing illegal immigrants to quality for in-state tuition at Florida colleges and universities, the Pashleys are infuriated that they, 10-year legal residents, are not entitled to the same benefits.

Nataly Chandia Viano, executive director of the International Student Services Center at UCF, said E-2 students can get in-state tuition if they can prove Florida residency. But at age 21, students are required to switch to an F-1 student visa and then pay out-of-state tuition. Under federal law, students can be dependent on their parents' E-2 visa only until age 21.

"What makes me mad is the fact that if you're illegal, you get more benefits than if you come in legally," Georgia said. "It's completely unfair."

The Pashleys, who own Super Pool Services, say they can't afford to send their kids to UCF, which charges $32,861 a year for out-of-state tuition, fees and room and board. The in-state tuition rate rings up $10,000 less, at $22,415.

The fault partially lies with Rod and Sue, who could have applied for citizenship early on -- a process that would take about five years and cost about $15,000 for the family of four.

"We just didn't think we would be here for 10 years," said Sue, 52. "It really has gone very, very quickly."

Under the E-2 visa, dependants are not permitted to work. Alex and Georgia say they would have been saving for college if they were allowed to get jobs.

"I always regret that they've never been able to get work experience. I always feel really guilty about them not having that," Sue said. "I've had a job since 13."

Richard Maney, a Tampa-based immigration attorney, said the Pashleys' dilemma is quite common among families who are in the U.S. on E-2 visas.

The visa allows non-immigrants into the country who plan on starting a business or other investment. Technically, they live here temporarily and then return to their home country at the end of their investment. But many people under the E-2 visa stay for years since there is no time constraint.

"That is contrary to saying you're a resident of the state of Florida," Maney said. "Logically, it makes no sense. These parents are paying taxes, they're living here, they're subject to various taxations in the state. They're supporting the state college system, but they can't take advantage of it.

"It's not always a fatal issue, because many clients on E-2 visas are so successful that they're going to send their little ones to private schools anyway," he added.

UCF currently has 12 students on E-2 visas enrolled in the summer term, records show. Three of those students are from the United Kingdom. Those are small numbers compared to UCF's total summer enrollment of 36,500; 57,500 students were enrolled in the spring.

Viano, the international student services director at UCF, said there are no scholarships offered for students from England; however, the university is part of the Florida-Canada and the Florida-Eastern Europe Linkage Institutes, which allow students from Canada and Eastern Europe to attend UCF -- and other community colleges and universities under the State University System of Florida -- at the in-state tuition rate. The selection process is highly competitive.

According to Florida Statute, the Linkage Institutes were created in 1987 by the Florida Legislature "to assist in the development of stronger economic, cultural, educational, and social ties between this state (Florida) and strategic foreign countries ..."

Donna Scarlatelli, a Sarasota immigration attorney who has been advising the Pashleys, says getting the F-1 student visa is actually the better deal.

"The benefit of the F-1 visa is that they're not illegal. They don't face the possibility of deportation. The kids that are getting the in-state tuition are subject to deportation at any moment," she said. "The kid that gets to be in the F-1 status, for the price of tuition, he's basically purchasing legal status."

On July 3, Alex will hug his family goodbye and board a plane with a one-way ticket back to England, where he will start the process of finding a job to save for college. He's applying as a business major to Sheffield Hallam University.

Never mind that he grew up here, made lifelong friends and played football at Lakewood Ranch High School all four years.

"I don't really have a choice," he said. "I'm just going to jump in the deep end and do it."

Georgia, who is also applying to Sheffield Hallam, won't be far behind.

Sabrina Rocco, East Manatee reporter, can be reached at (941) 745-7024. Follow her on Twitter @sabrinarocco.

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