An international student from Loyola has been sent back to his hometown in Turkey after allegedly violating the terms of his student visa, a situation that jeopardizes the completion of his bachelor’s degree.
Murat Aruta, 30, an incoming senior in Loyola’s Quinlan School of Business, was returning to Chicago for school on Aug. 11 when immigration officers at O’Hare International Airport discovered problems with his visa, denied him entry to the country and put him on a flight to Istanbul, according to Aruta.
Aruta acknowledged in a telephone interview with The Phoenix that he likely did break some of the visa requirements, but insisted that he did so inadvertently through a series of mishaps and misunderstandings. The business student said he wants to return to Chicago so he can finish his degree this school year.
Officials from the U.S. government’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency — which regulates foreign travel into American airports — didn’t immediately respond to calls from The Phoenix.
Aruta attended school in the United States under an F-1 student visa permit, which does not allow students to work off campus until after they complete one year of study, according to the State Department’s website. Even then, visa holders must take jobs that relate directly to their academic majors.
Aruta took a part-time job working for a valet company, parking cars at various restaurants, hotels and businesses around the city.
“I was working under my own social security number. I wasn’t working for the money,” Aruta said. “I thought I found a job that allowed me to still keep my student visa, and if I was violating the law, I assumed someone would let me know.”
But Aruta got into other trouble that he said he believes also led to his current visa dilemma.
In 2014, he got in a motorcycle accident that left him with a dislocated AC joint in his shoulder and a broken foot. Afterward, Aruta was unable to walk or attend class.
He decided to spend one month in Germany and Turkey while he regained the ability to stand and walk. He then returned to the United States to begin an eight-month stint attending physical therapy. Aruta said he did not work or attend class during that time, a decision which is now putting him at odds with visa case officers overseas.
“They told me I should have stayed in Turkey during those eight months and gotten better over there,” he said.
During that same year, Aruta also received three traffic violations: one for driving through an alleyway where no through traffic was permitted, another for not stopping before turning out of that same alleyway and one for his motorcycle accident — which Aruta said was caused by another driver running a red light.
Aruta was later stopped a fourth time for swerving into an adjacent traffic lane. This time, he was told he was driving with a suspended license.
He quickly paid off all three tickets, which he said he didn’t realize meant he was voluntarily pleading guilty to the charges brought against him.
In Illinois, pleading guilty to three traffic violations in one year puts your license at risk of suspension.
Tami Renner, assistant director of the Office of International Students and Scholars at Loyola, has previously worked with students who were barred from re-entering the United States after violating their student visas. They were denied entry for a range of time periods; some were only banned for one semester and others were banned for one year. One student was denied re-entry for 10 years.
“It’s doubtful [Aruta] will return for the fall semester, but we remain hopeful that he can return in the spring,” said Renner. “A violation is a serious thing and they don’t take it lightly, so his outcome is up in the air at this point.”
Renner’s office is unable to help Aruta because of the nature of his visa termination. If he was stuck overseas purely because of administrative purposes, then Renner said she and her team could help.
“A lot of it depends on what visa case officer you get that day,” Renner said. “But again, he hasn’t been barred yet, so there’s still hope.”
Aruta has been actively involved on campus both during his time at the College of Lake County (CLC) and at Loyola. He served as an international student ambassador while at CLC, helping fellow international students become acclimated to the new language and culture.
“It was the best job I have ever had,” he said.
At Loyola, Aruta is a member of the ski club and the boxing club. One of his teammates in the boxing club, Mario Federico, a senior accounting major, considers Aruta to be one of the most generous and caring people he has ever met.
“Without really knowing me or other members of the team, he would bring large packs of water bottles during practice, so anyone who forgot theirs could have one,” Federico said. “He would give rides to as many people as he could if they needed one, since he was the only one, at the time, who drove to practice.”
Aruta said he will continue to attend visa appointments until he is allowed back in the United States.
“Obviously, I am fully aware of the mistakes I made and I regret them every moment of every day,” Aruta said. “But if you look at my offenses in the United States — getting arrested and violating the terms of my visa — it seems worse than it is … People get arrested for drug possession and so many worse things, and they’re still allowed to come back.”
Aruta remains hopeful that the United States government will eventually let him return, and he has plans to finish his degree and accept the internship he was offered many weeks ago.