Pereira first came to the U.S. as a student in 2008, when she received a full scholarship to Oklahoma City University. The Colombian violinist spent 10 years on a student visa, earning two bachelor’s degrees and a master’s degrees.
She has worked for seven years as a lead teaching artist at El Sistema Oklahoma, an after-school program that teaches music to underserved Oklahoma City Public Schools students, and has performed for a decade with the Oklahoma City Philharmonic.
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The last two years, she has lived in the U.S. on a work visa, but after 12 years of living in America – all in Oklahoma City – Pereira said she wanted to take the next step to citizenship: applying for a green card and becoming a permanent resident. If her application was approved, she would need to live in the U.S. for five more years and then apply for citizenship.
But artists like Pereira can face specific roadblocks to citizenship because most of them are gig workers. She couldn’t apply for an EB-3 green card for employment-based permanent residency because she doesn’t have a full-time job. El Sistema Oklahoma is a nonprofit after-school program, and OKC Philharmonic members work on contract.
“Those are dream jobs, the only downside is that they are not full time. So, they could not sponsor me for that secure track to permanent residency,” Pereira said.
So, Pereira tried for an EB-1 visa, which grants permanent residency for applicants with extraordinary abilities in the arts, sciences or other fields. Her application included letters of support from Horn and Sen. Jim Inofe, details on her work with El Sistema Oklahoma and her role as principal second violinist on Gabriela Montero’s Latin Grammy-winning classical album.
Her application was denied, but she didn’t get her response back until Aug. 28. Her work visa expired Aug. 10. She was supposed to leave the country, but couldn’t get any flights to Colombia because of COVID-19.