Shahzaib Bajwa is a 20-year-old exchange student who came to the United States from Pakistan last year and was enrolled in a one-semester program at a university in Wisconsin. It sounds like a fairly typical foreign exchange student situation until you learn that Shahzaib is currently in a coma at a Minnesota hospital and is facing deportation next week when his visa expires. In the event that his visa is not renewed in time, the hospital will be forced to discharge him and he will be sent back to Pakistan with his family, who will be obligated to pay the medical bills that continue to accrue daily as a result of his condition. The issue has drawn attention from the U.S. State Department as Shahzaib’s immigration status is already something of an anomaly, and undoubtedly has immigration attorney and other experts interested.
According to his brother, Shahzaib’s family is being asked to give legal consent to send him back to Pakistan in his current condition. They are in the United States on visitor’s visas but they understand that time is not very well on their side. He has shown signs of improvement and has briefly opened his eyes, wiggled his toes, and given his mother’s hand a light squeeze, but these indicators have been sparse and inconsistent. And while he still does not have any speaking ability, neurological tests indicate that he may in fact be coming out of the coma.
Nevertheless, medical expenses for Shahzaib since his car accident in November, which caused his condition, have crossed the $350,000 mark and are mounting daily. His travel insurance plan is capped at $100,000 and his family does not have the money to pay the bills that are being incurred. The Bajwa family has requested that the hospital switch his student visa to a medical visa but according to family members their initial cooperation in that endeavor has given way to an ongoing attempt to have him discharged and sent back to Pakistan. State Department officials deny that they refused to extend Shahzaib’s student visa and claim that they are working closely with the hospital, with the student program sponsors, and with the Bajwa family to come to the best possible solution for the family. But the Bajwa family itself and their attorney don’t feel as though the State Department is being helpful, and are doubtful that they would be willing to extend Shahzaib’s student visa.
As unique as it may seem on the surface, the situation is not as uncommon as some might assume. Advocacy groups released a study in 2012 that revealed that there have been a number of incidents in the last several years in which some hospitals have discharged immigrants who were hospitalized, and even comatose, and had them deported without the knowledge or consent of the State Department. According to the study, there were over 800 cases over the course of six years in which immigrants were returned to their home country without consent because they were unable to pay their hospital bills. Some experts claim that there is simply a general lack of oversight on the part of the federal government and the applicable agencies therein to monitor these kinds of situations and help to ensure that immigrants who are suffering from serious illness are not sent home until they are well.
If you or someone you know needs help with a situation similar to Shahzaib’s or any other immigration issue, please visit the Lyttle Law Firm website or call their offices in Austin, Texas at 512-215-5225.