Immigration

Comatose Exchange Student Shahzaib Bajwa Won't Be Deported

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A Pakistani exchange student, who has been in a coma in a Duluth, Minn. hospital, will not be deported, reports the Associated Press. 

According to Pioneer Press, Shahzaib Bajwa has been hospitalized since a November car accident. He had been a student at University of Wisconsin-Superior and in the country on a student visa. That visa expires on Feb. 28.

Until Wednesday, Bajwa’s family was concerned that difficulty getting his visa renewed, coupled with his mounting hospital bills, would lead officials to have him deported back to Pakistan.

Bajwa’s bills amount to $350,000 so far and continue to grow every day. Bajwa’s brother, Shahraiz Bajwa, told NBC News that the hospital will not help convert the patient’s student visa to a medical one because they don’t believe the family can pay the bills. 

“There is one doctor at this hospital who has put a lot of effort in sending my brother back, and he must be very heartbroken that we are still here. He is doing it because my brother is costing them money,” Shahraiz Bajwa said. “When we asked the hospital to convert his student visa into a medical visa, first they said they would help us. Then they took that offer from the table.”

“We are working collaboratively with Mr. Bajwa’s family and caregivers along with the U.S. and Pakistani governments to reach the best possible outcome for the patient and for his family,” hospital spokeswoman Maureen Talarico said in the same news story, adding she could not directly address Bajwa’s claims because of patient privacy laws.

The issue has shed new light on growing concerns of “medical repatriations.” Such maneuvers allow for de-facto deportations when a hospital is concerned an immigrant cannot pay medical bills. According to NBC, a 2012 study released by two advocacy groups tracked 800 such cases. In one case, a patient was removed through a hospital’s garbage-disposal doors. In another, a patient was flown to a foreign airport and abandoned on the tarmac.  

Such a grim fate does not await Shahzaib Bajwa, it seems. His brother has said the family has been contacted by Pakistan’s consul general in Chicago. The office there told him that the expiring visa will no longer be problem. The consul general also informed the family that the exchange program’s insurance company will pay to move Bajwa to a long-term care facility and pay for his care for a short time. The family will have to pay expenses after that.

An online fundraising campaign the family launched last week has raised about $131,000.

Sources: Star Tribune (AP Story), Pioneer Press, NBC News

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