Immigrant from Venezuela earned 5 degrees while waiting to hear about asylum
By SARAH DONOVAN, Monitor staff
Pursuing an education in the United States for a positive future has driven Keillys Guerrero Rojas.
An immigrant from Venezuela, Guerrero sought higher education to create more opportunities for herself and also to distract from the complications of the immigration process and the hardships of being separated from her family.
One of three sisters, Guerrero grew up in the city of San Cristobal. Her mother ran three successful private schools when the economy was good, but between 2011 and 2013, she was forced to shut down two of the schools due to soaring inflation rates and government pushback. One of her sisters was facing political pressure and fled to Chilé and Guerrero hasn’t seen her since 2014.
Guerrero became the victim of a government kidnapping when she was 18 and her mother encouraged her to get away from Venezuela and continue her education in the U.S.
“I didn’t want to say bye to Venezuela. But that’s when New Hampshire became my home,” Guerrero said.
At 22 years old in 2014, Guerrero got approved for a student Visa to enroll in the two-year English as a Second Language program at NHTI – Concord’s Community College in Concord. She said it was difficult coming to the U.S. not knowing any English, but she persevered to the point where she has more opportunities than she knows what to do with.
Guerrero, who was one of very few Latina students, has earned four associate degrees from NHTI, a bachelor’s degree from Southern New Hampshire University and is now pursuing a second bachelor ’s degree in engineering and a master’s degree in business administration.
When Guerrero left Venezuela in 2014, she returned home later that year and found the same heightened level of political violence that drove her to leave in the first place.
Returning to the U.S. in 2015, she then applied for political asylum, received a work permit, and continued to pursue her education. Nearly 10 years later, she still has not been approved for asylum, which is granted to individuals who face torture or imprisonment because of their beliefs if they return to their home country. In order to be granted asylum, an individual must first meet the criteria to be considered a refugee, according to the U.S. government.
“When I applied for asylum, everything changed,” said Guerrero.
She said it’s been mentally taxing waiting and not seeing any progress made in the past years. Every two years she must re-apply for her work permit that has enabled her to attend college in the U.S. while working as an assistant manager at a gas station in Manchester.
“Waiting, waiting, waiting, waiting. It’s just very frustrating,” said Guerrero.
She said focusing on education has been the only thing keeping her going each day, giving her a goal to stay positive.
“The only way to relieve the stress was learning,” Guerrero said.
The process of transferring the credits she earned in Venezuela over to NHTI took three years since obtaining her documents was nearly impossible due to the state of the government, she said.
At the end of 2018, Guerrero returned to NHTI to pursue multiple associate’s degrees. Over the course of the past five years, she has graduated with four degrees – Associate of Liberal Arts awarded in May of 2020, Associate of General Studies awarded in May of 2022, Associate of Manufacturing Engineering Technology awarded in May of 2023, and Associate of Mechanical Engineering awarded in May of 2023.
Guerrero just graduated from Southern New Hampshire University with a Bachelor of Arts in General Studies with a Minor in Supply Chain Management & Logistics. .
One of her sisters, her mother, and a nephew were able to attend Guerrero’s two graduations this past May. “Without her, I cannot do anything,” Guerrero said of her mother.
“It’s the happiest I’ve ever been,” said Guerrero reflecting on her recent graduation from SNHU.
She said she hopes she can one day go back to Venezuela if the political situation improves and use the degrees that she earned in the States.
Guerrero, now 33 with five degrees under her belt, isn’t done yet. She is continuing to pursue her higher education by pursuing a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from UNH in Manchester while also completing a year-long Master of Business Administration program from SNHU.
Completing multiple bachelor ’s and associate’s degrees is not the path taken by many, but it worked for Guerrero.
She said education has been a light for her, amidst many challenging life struggles. She has made friends in her various programs and is very grateful for the people who have made New Hampshire feel like home.
Looking back at her experience, she encouraged people in similar situations to hers to not give up.
“I am very proud of what I do,” she said. “When I wen to NHTI, doors started opening for me.”