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Pending status: East African keeps prayers alive while awaiting residency change
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Photo: Todd Mizener
Patrick Noya, administrator at Calvary International Revival Church in Rock Island, came to the United States on a student visa and is awaiting a change in his residency status.
More photos from this shoot
Photo: Todd Mizener
Patrick Noya, administrator at Calvary International Revival Church in Rock Island, came to the United States on a student visa and is awaiting a change in his residency status.
ROCK ISLAND — Left in an immigration-status limbo, Patrick Noya, 35, can't be hired for a paying job, so he volunteers as a local church administrator and refugee outreach center official.

Mr. Noya came to the United States from Tanzania, East Africa, in 2004, on a student visa to study aviation. Regulation changes made after 9/11 forced him to change his plans and enter the ministry instead.

He first went to South Dakota, but moved to Peoria in 2006 and was joined by his wife, Violet Patrick, and daughter, Favour Noya. He and his wife have had two more daughters since — Fedora Noya in 2008 and Francisca Noya in the fall of 2012.

Mr. Noya and his wife have been married 10 years. His grandparents, who raised him, encouraged them to marry before Mr. Noya came to the U.S. He said one of his relatives left Tanzania and headed to America, never to return, so his grandparents wanted him to wed and settle down a bit before going to the U.S.

''It was sort of like an arranged marriage, but I'm thankful for such a wonderful woman in my life,'' said Mr. Noya, wholast visited his grandparents, family and friends in Tanzania in 2005.

''With the help of technology — cellphones and Skype — I get to talk every day to friends and former high school classmates,'' he said. He said he also keeps in touch with a former first lady of Tanzania, Anna Mkapa, ''who was the one who paid for my plane ticket to the U.S.''

Mr. Noya and his family moved to the Quad-Cities in 2009 at the urging of the Rev. Joseph Scalisi, former priest at Trinity Anglican Church in Rock Island. Rev. Scalisi once was Mr. Noya's English teacher at a school in Africa and sponsored Mr. Noya's high school education, which cost $500 at that time.

Rev. Scalisi, though, later was reassigned to a church in Texas.

Mr. Noya now is a church administrator at Calvary International Revival Church in Rock Island and is a member of a Quad-Cities Refugee Outreach Center based at the church.

''Helping refugees and immigrants is why I don't lose hope and makes me feel part of the Quad-Cities,'' he said. ''For me, it's a sense of building us together.''

Mr. Noya said he helps translate for Swahili-speaking refugees and takes them to doctors or other health care providers as needed and accompanies them to job interviews to interpret and assist at orientation sessions, and helps them in other ways.

Demand for his services have grown in the past few years.

''When arriving here in 2009, there were maybe two or three people I could find who spoke Swahili or other dialects I know; now, it's probably in the 200s,'' Mr. Noya said.

''America's a great place, and it seems less expensive to live here in the Quad-Cities than many other places. That's why immigrants are coming here in larger numbers. It's more affordable to live here.''

However, he said it's been quite a struggle for his family.''It's tough. Our friends and church help, but it's still tough to make ends meet.

''Things are really different when you come as a student," Mr. Noya said. "It's much more difficult. When you're a refugee, all of your paperwork and documents have been finished and accepted, and you can get a job. When you arrive as a student, you have a different status.''

After finishing school in 2009, Mr. Noya had to apply for a change of status, and he's waited for about three years for that residency change, he said.''The application has been sent, but we can't do much until it gets approved.''

He can't take a job or even apply for public housing until his residency status is changed. He also can't take the chance of finding someone who would pay him ''under the table'' because that could endanger officially changing his residency status.

Money needed to change his status hasn't been easy to raise ''since you can't work unless you have your status changed,'' Mr. Noya said.

An option to return to Tanzania also isn't feasible, he said. ''It would cost $20,000 to do that, and we don't have the money for that.''

Yet, he refuses to give up hope and said he ''can't use the word 'regret.'''

''I got a great education, so I can't regret it,'' Mr. Noya said. ''I feel that the difficulties in this short-come will differ when it comes to my long-term goals. As they say, you have to go through the struggles to reach your goals. One day all this will be in the past, and good things will come.''

Until then, he keeps notes and writings of the difficulties he's faced, which he said he hopes to one day turn into a book or at least be able to show his kids what he's gone through.

One thing he said he knows for certain is ''when coming to America, depend on your belief system. 'Trust God, believe in what you can't see and don't cease praying.''

-- Location:Eastern Africa, bordering the Indian Ocean, between Kenya and Mozambique.

-- Population:46,912,768 (July 2012 estimate). No. 28 in the world.

-- Languages:Kiswahili or Swahili (official); Kiunguja (name for Swahili in Zanzibar); English (official, primary language of commerce, administration, and higher education); Arabic (widely spoken in Zanzibar); many local languages.

Source: CIA World Factbook.

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