Ukrainian refugees denied tourist visas to live with family on Long Island

Kristin Thorne Image
Tuesday, March 15, 2022
Family of Long Islanders in Ukraine denied tourist visas
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A family from Oyster Bay is trying get their loved ones who fled Ukraine to Long Island, but the U.S. embassies overseas will not issue them tourist visas. Kristin Thorne has the story.

GLEN COVE, Long Island (WABC) -- A family from Oyster Bay is trying get their loved ones who fled Ukraine to Long Island, but the U.S. embassies overseas will not issue them tourist visas.

"They're just bouncing from country to country to country," said Jenya Semenkova, of Oyster Bay. "We're here and we can support them."

Semenkova's sister, Kseniia Isaienko, and her brother-in-law, Oleksandr Isaienko, fled Odessa last month after a bomb attack near their apartment. They left with only the clothes on their back and some of their personal documents.

The couple has been going to U.S. embassies throughout Europe trying to get tourist visas so they can come to their family on Long Island.

"The embassy they said they cannot give to us any visa," Oleksandr Isaienko told Eyewitness News reporter Kristin Thorne over FaceTime.

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Isaienko said the consular official was in tears telling the couple, but said there was nothing he could do.

U.S. federal immigration law stipulates that people applying for a tourist visa, the type of visa which can be secured most quickly, must be able to prove that they have a permanent residence to return to in their home country and that they intend to do so.

The Isaienko's, like so many other Ukrainians, are unable to provide such proof because they do not know what is going to happen to their hometown.

"We hope to go back home to Ukraine," Kseniia Isaienko said. "We just want a tourist visa just to stay a few months."

Long Island Congressman Tom Suozzi has written to President Joe Biden requesting the White House create a special refugee program to help Ukrainians seeking to stay temporarily with their families in the U.S.

"You can understand the provisions of the law and why they were done originally, but now these families are caught up in this," Suozzi said. Suozzi said he is working with another local family in a similar situation.

Other countries, such as Canada, have waived their visa requirements to allow Ukrainians to move there during the humanitarian crisis.

In the meantime, Oleksandr and Kseniia Isaienko are living out of their car in Italy trying to figure out their next step.

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Eyewitness News reached out to the U.S. State Department who issued a written statement reiterating their policy regarding tourist visas.

In addition, the statement said, "We are working to ensure our embassies and consulates in the region have sufficient staff and resources and are prioritizing consular support to U.S. citizens and their immediate family members."

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