PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — He's been a frontline worker throughout the pandemic, treating some recovering COVID-19 patients.
However, a Port St. Lucie physical therapist from Brazil said he is struggling to continue to work here legally.
Dienaro Germanowicz has been working in Florida under an EB2 National Interest Waiver, an employment-based visa for someone with exceptional abilities or higher education.
When he petitioned to renew his legal status, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services denied his application, saying in part that his work as a physical therapist is not considered a part of the national interest, "nor has he demonstrated that his proposed contributions are of such value that, overall, they would benefit the nation even if other qualified U.S. workers were available."
He is fighting to convince the government otherwise.
One of his patients, Roque Silva, worries about losing one of his favorite medical professionals.
Silva fell and broke his neck in 2017, waking up from a coma five months later.
"When I woke up, I could only move my eyes and my mouth," Silva said.
He is learning to walk again, and Germanowicz works closely with him.
"Especially because he speaks Spanish, Portuguese, and English, it's easier for me because English is not my first language," Silva said.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Germanowicz said he has felt more needed than ever. Some of the roughly 30 patients he regularly works with have been recovering from COVID-19.
"Ninety percent of my patients are in assisted living facilities, long-term care facilities throughout the pandemic," Germanowicz said.
He was tested weekly for COVID-19 and visited assisted living facilities even while they were on lockdown.
The possibility of losing his ability to work here legally is hard to grasp. He is married with a young child and another baby on the way.
"My goodness, I'm going to lose my job and my health benefits," Germanowicz feared.
After denying his application, Germanowicz said USCIS granted him an extension, where he is also working to appeal the decision. He's submitted evidence where he is quoted and cited in scholarly books and articles to boost his qualifications as an expert.
He also says the denial letter said his position was not considered to be one of national importance despite the shortage of medical workers.
"Everywhere you go they call you a hero, then you say, 'Well, you're not in the national importance,'" Germanowicz said.
President Donald Trump announced in 2020 that he was tightening restrictions on foreign workers to protect American jobs.
However, an exception was made for "any alien seeking to enter the United States on an immigrant visa…to perform work essential to combating, recovering from, or otherwise alleviating the effects of the COVID-19 outbreak."
"It's disappointing because while there is an exception, everything with immigration is discretionary on a case-by-case basis," said Stuart-based Immigration Attorney, Christopher Gaston. "Physical therapists do seem to meet the requirements for COVID exceptions," Gaston said, as many COVID-19 patients who spend time in the hospital need physical therapy to regain strength.
Gaston has noticed the visa approval process has become more rigorous now than before the pandemic.
"The perception is individuals are coming to the U.S., and there's a fear they're taking American jobs. But the reality is, especially in the medical field, we don't have enough of these medical professionals, especially in a pandemic to fill the positions that are needed and care for the population," Gaston said.
Germanowicz. hopes his appeal will keep him working here legally. He also reached out to U.S. Rep. Brian Mast's office.
"I don't want to lose him," Silva said.
"I'll keep fighting," Germanowicz said.
USCIS Spokesperson Sharon Scheidhauer said:
As matter of practice, USCIS does not comment on the adjudication decisions related to individual cases. USCIS evaluate each petition, application and request on a case-by-case basis to determine if they meet all standards required under applicable laws, regulations, and policies. Agency adjudicators deny applications when the petitioner provides insufficient evidence to establish eligibility based on the preponderance of the evidence standard. It is incumbent upon the applicant – not the government – to show that the prospective beneficiary meets the requirements for eligibility under the law.