Friday, September 18, 2020

Clerical error sends Nashville priest back to Serbia

NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) — Aleksander Vujkovic moved to the United States in 2009 first as a student studying theology in Illinois.

After studying for four years, he was finished in 2013. That’s when he went back home to Serbia, married his wife, and then returned to America to start his family.

Living in Nashville since 2014, he helped build the Saint Petka Serbian Orthodox Church into what it is today and says he’s their first full-time priest.

Vujkovic says throughout his time in the US, he’s always followed legal immigration protocol.

“I really did everything according to the law. You know I filed the tax, I was working," he said.

But he says a mistake by his lawyer is causing his return to Serbia by August 16th.

“It was very hard to accept that, but that’s reality and we don’t want to be illegal here. We want everything to be legal, that’s the reason we are going back to Serbia and we will reapply for the Green Card from Serbia.”

Vujkovic says his lawyer forgot to include the Religious Worker Visa when sending in his Green Card application. By February of this year, he was denied a new visa which started a 6-month countdown clock to deportation. After applying for a retroactive visa and appeal, Vujkovic was denied again in June.

These are some of the letters between Vujkovic and his attorney as well as letters sent to state leaders. His lawyer’s name has been redacted: 

Robert Blagojevich is the President of the Church Board for Saint Petka.

He says immigration lawyers all tell him Vujkovic has to go back to Serbia and refile to get back into the United States.

Blagojevich says, “You look at our immigration system which I think you can argue is broken...we had someone in our community who was responsible, tried to follow the law, believed in the law, did everything properly. Lawyer messes up and now he’s being penalized and he has to go back.”

He even says he’s gone as far as reaching out to President Trump to see if he could do anything after Congressional leaders told him there’s nothing they can do to influence the immigration system.

“That’s a wild card for us, it’s a Hail Mary. Who knows what will happen.”

Blagojevich describes the church as primarily Bosnian refugees from a conflict in the 90s in Bosnia and Serbia. He says they will continue Sunday services as allowed by the city and use a temporary priest in the interim.

“We’ve done everything we could for these last many months to try to fix the situation and at some point you got to realize it’s the US government you’re fighting,” said Blagojevich.

Father Vujkovic says he, his wife and kids will likely leave earlier than the August 16th deadline because they have to coordinate flights and many are cancelled out of the country.

That means packing up and leaving early too.  

“It’s very hard, you know, even with my kids to explain to them that they’re not able to take all their toys with them to Serbia and they crying you know it’s not easy.”

It also means leaving the church community behind.

“That church, it's part of me. You know, and this parish, it’s also part of me and my kids are born here in Nashville. We are like one big family you know? And we know each other very well. We spend time with each other, so this parish means a lot to me.”

News4 reached out to ICE who was able to verify that Vujkovic is currently in the country lawfully but can’t speculate what would happen should he stay past his visa expiration.

Their office doesn’t issue or cancel visas - that is done by US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

USCIS did return our request for comment but couldn’t provide any immigration information for Father Vujkovic. They did point us to their website for religious worker visas.


  1. Why doesn’t the Serbian Archdiocese retain a competent lawyer to avoid such inconveniences? If they assigned naturalized citizens as parish priests they wouldn’t even have to do that. I realize Bosnian Serb emigre might present specific pastoral challenges but this is one of the worst outcomes.

  2. The errant lawyers name should be known,,,, this is just terrible,,,,renics prebis ( sp?) Is Greek Orthodox can he help,,,,or secretary Azar?

  3. "Robert Blagojevich is the President of the Church Board for Saint Petka"

    This isn't Rod's brother Robert, is it? If so, he's already got an in to the White House

  4. That parish purchased a dilapidated Baptist church building in downtown Nashville, and Fr. Aleksander hired me to design the renovation into an Orthodox church. He was a very good client, a pleasure to work with, and the project came out really well. I think very highly of him for his courage to do the job right when the city and many in his own parish were not all that supportive.