E2 Visa: Stranded in Leutenbach

In Arizona , the issue of brings to mind drop houses, smugglers, and deaths in the desert.  But a German couple living in Eastern Arizona has experienced a different immigration story, which they call a “nightmare.”  KJZZ’s Tony Ganzer reports.

TG: Joerg and Beate Bohlig own the German-themed Beate’s Café in Nutrioso, a small town nestled in the White Mountains of Eastern Arizona.  The nearest grocery store is 11 miles down a winding mountain highway, and the county ranks among the poorest in the country.

JOERG BOHLIG:  “12 years ago I came to the White Mountains, I saw the property, and had no idea what to do with it.”

TG:  Joerg Bohlig’s land purchase in rural Arizona included a run-down country store with a couple of rooms on an upper floor.  When he turned 65, his wife Beate was laid off from her factory job, and Bohlig decided to sell his structural engineering company.  He planned to make the run-down country store into a restaurant with rooms for rent.

BOHLIG:  “The long term plans were to run the restaurant to give it a good name, after a couple of years, maybe 10 years, we we will sell it and start to live.”

TG: The couple sold everything and came to America , eventually creating Beate’s Café.  They built their business by way of an e2 visa, allowing foreign individuals and businesses to work in the States, as long as their economic contributions are more than marginal.  The definition of which can vary based on the size of the city, and opinion of the review panel. Every five years the visa needs to be reviewed.  The US Consulate in Frankfurt approved the visa for one renewal, but denied a second renewal this year.

BOHLIG:  “They told me: “Nope you don’t get it because the outcome of the investment is not enough.””

TG:  Bohlig says he and his wife were invited to Frankfurt for an interview about their visa.  It was denied.  And the Bohlig’s couldn’t leave the country.

BOHLIG:  “We were called to an office, and there was a lady who was very, very unfriendly, and she said, “No, you don’t get it.” And I said, “But now we are in Germany, I have my property in the States and I can’t go back” And she said, “Not my problem…your business.””

GERD ZIMMERMANN: “I’m guessing no one who made the decision has ever been in the White Mountains, and doesn’t know what it’s about.”

TG:  Gerd Zimmermann is the Bohlig’s attorney.  He says the Consulate didn’t think Beate’s Café was more than a marginal business, and more paperwork didn’t convince them otherwise.

ZIMMERMANN: “In my opinion, a business what creates 50 or 60 thousand sales in Nutrioso, is a real success.” *chuckles*

TG: Zimmermann says the US Consulate in Frankfurt is the only entity which could help the Bohligs, though there’s no external appeal process.

PARKER:  “In the last 12 months we’ve had 5300 application for E visas from German nationals.  We issued 4800.  So we have a 9 percent refusal rate.”

TG:  Andrew Parker is the consulate section chief in Frankfurt , and knows the ins and outs of the E2 visa program.

PARKER: “(It’s) pretty much for a unlimited amount of time as long as the people are qualified for that visa.  They have to continue meeting the terms, which means there must be a substantial investment, and the investment cannot be marginal.  In other words, not just enough to allow a person to survive. They must generate economic activity.”

TG:  Parker couldn’t comment on the Bohlig’s case directly, but he said a number of factors are taken into consideration during the e2 process, including the amount of an investment and the community in which the investment will take place.

PARKER:  “We urge people to be well-prepared and to be able to document very well whether their business plans or on a renewal, how it is they have been able to have an economic impact in the United States.”

BOHLIG:  “All our money, all our property, all is in America…it’s a nightmare.”

TG:  The now 72-year old Joerg Bohlig says he’s scraping by in Leutenbach, in southwestern Germany .  Friends in Arizona are trying to sell his 2007 pick-up truck and travel trailer to generate money for the couple.  They also helped clean the now empty café. The Bohlig’s attorney is currently gathering testimonials, tax records, and anything else which might convince the Consulate to change its mind.   An appeal will be sent in the coming weeks.

For KJZZ I’m Tony Ganzer.

A follow-up to this story will be produced from Germany.

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