TOPEKA (KSNT) – Tamas Kowalik has been living in Manhattan, Kansas with his family since 2019. After making the trip from Hungary with his wife, Olena, and his children, they’re now getting ready to pack their bags.
Tamas said it started earlier this summer, when he ran into roadblocks, after being approved for a special green card: an EB-2 National Interest Waiver. What started as a celebration led to a months-long journey of trying to get answers—with no luck.
“We learned that the ‘Adjustment of Status’ takes up to a year or maybe more…,” Kowalick told Kansas Capitol Bureau in an interview Friday. “Until that happens, and we get the green card, I can’t work and I can’t travel because I wouldn’t be able to return.”
Tamas also got word that his mother, who lives in Hungary, was diagnosed with cancer. As her only son, he said he’s making the choice to fly out to be with her, even though he has no way of coming back.
He’s also at risk of being jobless in Hungary, after being politically marginalized, in the wake of speaking out against the country’s government.
“Who knows when we are able to come back to the states…,” Kowalik said. “All we know is that our family loves Kansas and it is a very sad moment.”
He said his family will also be forced to leave the U.S. after a month, returning to a country that shares a border with war-torn Ukraine. Tamas’ wife, Olena, said it will be a difficult adjustment.
“It is very hard logistically, because…alone with four children… one is three years old… so…Emotions are coming immediately…,” she said, holding back tears.
The special EB-2 waiver is only awarded to people who prove that their work can benefit society. Tamas’ boss Aliah Seay, said he’s done just that.
Seay is an Executive Director at UFM Community Learning Center at Kansas State University, where Tamas works as a Community Engagement and Education Coordinator & Program Case Manager for the department’s new project.
Tamas is leading a multi-million dollar Youth Build Department of Labor grant, which has brought an influx of jobs to the state. Now, all that could be at risk with Tamas’ status up in the air.
“I have issued a formal complaint with the Office of Civil Rights in Washington D.C., because there could potentially be a human rights issue at stake…,” Seay told Kansas Capitol Bureau. “Because… simply put… the Kowalik family has been approved for a green card…they have done everything legally… they are documented immigrants.”
Tamas and his boss said they’ve had no luck getting through to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to file the “Adjustment of Status” form. Kansas Capitol Bureau also tried reaching out to the national press line for USCIS, but received a dial tone.
“We’re trying to work with immigration lawyers to figure out how we could come back to the U.S. and when that will happen…,” Tamas said.
Meanwhile, as their lives hang in the balance, Tamas’ family is trying to hold it together. Olena said they’ve received an outpouring of support, as they hang on to hope.
“We still have hope that something will change…,” she said.
To help Tamas’ family through this time, click here.