GABB Broker Lara Van Pletzen Is New U.S. Citizen

GABB broker Lara Van Pletzen at her U.S. citizenship ceremony.

GABB broker Lara Van Pletzen at her U.S. citizenship ceremony.

One of the the United States’ newest citizens is GABB broker Lara Van Pletzen. Van Pletzen, who was born in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, became a U.S. citizen in a ceremony on Friday, Aug. 26. She is the ROI Business Development Manager for the Southeast of ROI Business Brokers.

GABB asked Lara about her road to becoming a U.S. citizen. She says she left her home country “in the 70’s just before Mugabe came into power.” She grew up with terrorism in the Rhodesian Bush war, and when her family traveled to South Africa for vacation, they were escorted by military convoys.  Raised in South Africa, she left for Canada in 2002 and lived there until November 2003.

“I left Africa because of the high frequency of violent crime,” she said. “Yes, there is crime everywhere, but we lived behind electric fencing and burglar bars, home invasions were all too common and extremely violent. Although a tough decision to make, we decided to leave after my husband was held up at gunpoint at work.  I personally didn’t want to raise my kids there, and I got tired of looking over my shoulder everywhere I went.

“Obviously some people don’t like to hear this point of view, but it was my view and it does not mean that I am not proud of my roots. I guess I just see the world as a smaller place with things that are humanly common to all people in a variety of lands. Everyone does what they think is best for their children, and there is no one right answer. For us this was the right thing and it was an act of our Christian faith.”

While living in Canada, her husband Andries was offered a wonderful work opportunity in the USA. Lara moved to Appleton, Wisconsin, with her family on an H1B/H4 visa in 2003 and lived there from 2003 until 2008. “I was allowed to live here but I was not allowed to work; only my husband was allowed to work.”

Lara and her family after her U.S. citizenship ceremony.

Lara and her family after her U.S. citizenship ceremony.

“I arrived on Thanksgiving 2003 and it felt wonderful,” she remembers. “I had grown up watching American TV–especially Dallas–and believed the entire USA was like Texas: cowboy hats, Texan accents.

“I also watched Full House as a kid and always found it strange that there were multiple V’s and phones and was amazed that kids had their own TV’s.  I didn’t really believe it was true until I came here; our homes had one TV and one phone.

“For the first few Christmases, my husband thought I was being an extravagant Santa (we called him Father Christmas) when I bought what were small Santa gifts. He thought they cost more as a Santa gift here would be a main gift in South Africa.”

“In 2008 the company who sponsored my husband for his H1B visa told us their attempts to keep us here and get us green cards failed, and since the H visa was only a 6-year temporary visa, we left in 2008. We didn’t want to go back to South Africa; fortunately my husband was offered a job in Australia.”

“I moved there in 2008 on 457 visas, temporary 2-year visas that could then be converted to permanent status. We never got that far as we had only been there a year when, in 2009, with the global recession, the international company my husband worked for in Australia decided to close that unit. Since we had not been there two years, it once again meant having to leave the country.

Lara's U.S. citizenship certificate.

Lara’s U.S. citizenship certificate.

“Today we are really happy with the way things worked out as our hearts were always in the USA anyway. We never imagined at this time there would ever be a way to come back, but at that time it just felt like our world was falling apart. Before the opportunity to come back here came about, we had to leave Australia, so we moved to New Zealand and I obtained student visas for my kids.  I lived there on a guardian visa while we tried to figure out what to do.

“It was two unexpected major moves in two years. Our furniture was still in USA storage, finances tight with us both of us having had temporary work loss. We had been sleeping on air mattresses. Shortly after I arrived in New Zealand, my husband’s Australian company offered my husband a transfer to the USA unit on a L visa.”

“We came back to the USA in 2009 and moved to Atlanta, this time to be near the airport as my husband was expected to travel extensively, and Hartsfield had many flight options. I found Georgia a little harder to move to Wisconsin, but am settled with no plans to move again. My husband, on the other hand, has traveled more than we expected, and he uses that airport more than we had hoped.”

“During the past seven years I have been here, he has worked in South Africa, Botswana, Ghana, Zambia, Chili and now Mongolia. With 21 happy years of marriage behind us, cynics say it is because he isn’t here most of the time that we are happy. Sometimes they ask, ‘How do you do it?’ The truth is, we are a team, and every day and night apart has been worth it to give us and our kids the opportunity to live here. I remind them more than they like that I expect great things from them.

“We are not here to take but to give and make a difference. I have no regrets, and it would feel wrong to complain, we have achieved something we never thought possible.”

“I wanted to become a citizen because this is my country and I want to participate and embrace everything about it. I want to vote but most of all I want to feel secure that I will never have to leave. I also wanted to get it done before my son turned 18 to save him the trouble of converting his green card to citizenship,” she said. “My kids were very young when we moved here, they don’t feel foreign, they were 3 and 3 months when we first moved here. In their minds this is home, and I wanted to make it official.”

“I like the checks and balances that were designed in the constitution that prevent this country from ever becoming a dictatorship. I’m glad people here are free to disagree and don’t all think alike. It keeps the balance and protection; we should see it as a positive and not a negative.”

“I love the patriotism American’ feel for their country, the freedoms this country represents. Technically, I came here for the same reasons the first immigrants did: freedom of religion, freedom of speech, opportunity, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

GABB congratulates our new U.S. citizen. You can contact Lara at lvanpletzen@roibusinessbrokers.com, Office: 404-445-8322 ext 26, Cell:770-876-8162