Paperwork snafu prevents legal immigrant from returning to Bethel
Published 4:52 pm, Monday, February 12, 2018
BETHEL — Patrick Bowles and Stella Nayre quickly connected when they met in November 2013 through an online Catholic chat room.
Even though Bowles was in Bethel and Nayre thousands of miles away in the Philippines, they shared their faith and a desire for companionship.
After six months, Bowles flew to the Philippines to meet Nayre in person. He proposed during the seven-day trip, and at the beginning of 2015 they got married in his living room..
In the nearly three years since, Stella Bowles has lived in the United States legally on a visa. But when she went back to the Philippines two months ago for the funeral of a beloved nephew, a paperwork snafu kept her from returning.
Stella Bowles, 51, lacked a confirmation letter that proves she is legally allowed to travel in and out of the United States. Her husband said she should have received the paperwork months ago when her visa renewal was approved.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services official told him they had sent the letter and declined to send another until last week, after several phone calls and visits to their Hartford office, as well as pressure from U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.
“We’ve been in turmoil these last few months,” said Patrick Bowles, 57.
A spokeswoman for the USCIS said she could not comment on individual cases, but that long processing times could have led to the delay.
Bowles immediately sent the document to the Philippines through FedEx and plans to book his wife’s flight home once she receives the paperwork.
In the meantime, he said, their lives are on hold.
A remodeling project had to be delayed. Christmas presents are still under the tree in the living room. The rice cooker Stella used regularly hasn’t been touched.
She calls three to four times a day begging to come home.
“I’m sad because I want to be with you,” she said over the phone Sunday.
Ryann Martinez, a friend from St. Mary’s Church in Bethel, said Stella Bowles frequently asks him to invite her husband over for dinner to cheer him up.
“He was quite depressed,” Martinez said. “He was trying to be very jovial and everything, but he’s exhausted with all the process.”
Bowles has become even more dedicated to the church to get his mind off of the stress, he said.
Martinez, who moved from the Philippines in 1997, when he was 18, said he was surprised at the difficulties the couple has faced despite following the regular procedures.
“It’s just sad to know that people who have been through all the legal process still suffer that way,” he said.
For Stella Bowles to earn her initial one-year visa, the couple underwent a background check and provided emails, photographs, plane tickets and letters to prove the legitimacy of their relationship. Once she was in the U.S., they were married by then-State Rep. Dan Carter within the required 90-day window.
Stella Bowles later earned a two-year temporary green card and began working at Macy’s, a job she loves.
The green card was set to expire at the beginning of October, but the couple waited until August, when they had the money to apply for a 10-year green card — a month later she should have.
Still, in mid-October, Stella Bowles received a form from USCIS saying the application had been approved. The couple thought the missing confirmation letter wouldn’t be a problem, because she didn’t need to leave the United States.
Then, Stella’s nephew, 22-year-old Mitch, was killed in a car crash in the Philippines, the day after graduating from college with a nursing degree. The two had been close; she had helped raise him.
When her husband told her the news, while she was at work, she fainted.
“We had no choice,” Patrick Bowles said. “We had to do whatever we could to get her [to the Philippines].”
Bowles credits Blumenthal and the support of his congregation at St. Mary’s Church as the reason his wife will be permitted back in the country.
“Stella Bowes is a loving wife and neighbor who has been living in the United States legally,” Blumenthal said in a statement. “A simple clerical error made by USCIS should never have prevented Stella from returning to her husband and to the country she calls home.”
Bowles hopes that Stella is home for their three-year wedding anniversary on Feb. 22. They plan to open Christmas presents and eat at one of their favorite restaurants, Red Lobster. Then he’ll take her shopping for whatever she wants.