Hapless tourist offered U.S. job

September 17, 1994|By Mark Guidera | Mark Guidera,Sun Staff Writer

Some might call it the impossible vacation.

Since he handed a New York cabbie $472 for a ride from New York to Laurel two months ago, Dutch tourist Sasa Nikolic has been embraced by a flood of goodwill by outraged Americans -- everything from a free Florida vacation to limousine tours of the nation's Capitol.

Now he's been offered a stateside job and a shot at U.S. citizenship.

"A long time ago I started thinking it would be nice to become an American," said Mr. Nikolic. "Now maybe I can do it."

Mr. Nikolic's latest twist of good fortune while vacationing here is the result of a chance meeting with Mark Sentner, general manager of the Taco Bell restaurant in Montgomery Mall in Bethesda.

Mr. Sentner offered to hire and train Mr. Nikolic to work at one of Taco Bell's Maryland restaurants so he can begin the process of becoming a U.S. citizen.

"I got to talking to him and we hit it off right away. I was very interested in what had happened to him since he'd been in the United States," said Mr. Sentner.

Mr. Nikolic, whose tourist visa here expires Oct. 7, would have to apply for and receive a work visa from the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service before he could be employed by the restaurant chain. He plans first to seek a one-year extension on his tourist visa.

The 24-year-old Dutchman had stopped in to the Montgomery Mall restaurant last week with Laurel resident A.B. Miller, who befriended Mr. Nikolic in the lobby of the Laurel Econo-Lodge on July 11.

That's where the cabdriver had dropped off the visitor after he had asked to be taken to Washington, D.C.

When Mr. Miller heard how much Mr. Nikolic had paid the cabbie he stirred up media and tourist industry interest in Mr. Nikolic's plight. United Airlines, and tourist attractions such Disney World in Orlando, Fla., responded by laying out the red carpet.

Free round-trip air fare to Florida, hotel suites, and passes to top tourist attractions, such as Disney World in Florida and Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia, are just a few of the gifts Mr. Nikolic received.

If hired, Mr. Nikolic would work at either the Montgomery Mall Taco Bell or a Taco Bell in Rockville, Mr. Sentner said. His starting pay would be slightly above minimum wage.

Mr. Nikolic, who makes picture frames in a government subsidized program in his Dutch hometown, said he was a little surprised by the offer and spent last week mulling it over.

He decided there isn't much reason to return to the Netherlands.

"It is a better job than I have in Holland, and I can have friends anywhere. I can always get new friends," he said.

But before he can go to work for Taco Bell, Mr. Nikolic has his paperwork and a potentially long wait ahead.

Yesterday, he applied for a tourist visa extension. Next, he'll have to apply for what's known as a quota preference visa. That's the type of visa foreigners who have no relatives who are American citizens must obtain to work in the United States.

The U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service determines who gets those visas based on their skills, education, the type of job they plan to seek in the United States, and Labor Department data that shows which types of jobs have worker shortages.

Don Crocetti, acting district director of the Immigration and Naturalization Service office in Baltimore, said Labor Department figures don't show any shortage of workers in the fast-food industry.

"He would probably go on a waiting list. It would be better than five years," before a visa to work in the United States was issued, Mr. Crocetti said.

"It's not atypical that people come to this country for a visit and like it so much they want to stay," he said.

The Baltimore INS office, he said, receives on average 600 to 800 inquiries a day from foreigners wanting visa and immigration information, said Mr. Crocetti. About a dozen of those inquiries are from people vacationing in the area who are interested in staying to live and work, he said.

Mr. Miller, said he would attempt to expedite Mr. Nikolic's work visa request by adopting him if necessary. "He's like my family to me now anyway."

"I want to see him get his own apartment and live his American dream," said Mr. Miller.

"And we still want to go back to New York to find that cabdriver."

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