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Immigrants, co-workers become U.S. citizens

Gabe Farmer, Democrat Correspondent • Updated Jul 26, 2013 at 10:06 PM

Wilson County Motors recently moved from West Main Street to South Hartmann Drive in Lebanon, but for two employees that journey was microscopic in scale compared to the journey from their home countries. 

Simon Jones and Louis Brenkman came from two different parts of the world for two different reasons, but one thing they have in common is the process by which they became U.S. citizens.  It is a process they described as both fulfilling and difficult. 

Jones, 44, moved from London, England to the U.S. on an investor’s visa in 1992 when his parents invested in a business in St Pete Beach, Fla. Jones spent the next nine years designing and building restaurants while working as a qualified chef. He’s cooked for dignitaries, such as the Duke of Edinburgh and the late Princess Diana.

In 2001, Jones moved to Lebanon to work at the Lady Godiva Pub, the last restaurant he worked before entering the automotive business in 2004. All the while, Jones was constantly renewing his visas in order to stay in the U.S. 

“I was always worried about what would happen next,” Jones said, in reference to the many variables of receiving a visa. 

Eventually, Jones received a green card, which unlike a visa, only required he renew the card every 10 years. Early this year, though, Jones decided to apply for U.S. citizenship, which would legally make him a citizen. 

“Once I had all of the requirements, becoming a citizen wasn’t very hard” Jones said. 

He officially became a U.S. citizen Feb. 21. The process required an interview, as well as a swearing in and about $800, a small price compared to $1,500 of renewing a green card and the thousands more spent on visas. In total, Jones estimated he spent around $25,000-$30,000 on his immigration. 

While Jones’ immigration started out as a business venture, Brenkman’s immigration begins more like a romantic movie. 

Brenkman, 27, of Pretoria, South Africa, was a Carnival cruise line employee when he started his journey to becoming a US citizen.  Brenkman had never planned to move to the U.S. until eight years ago when he met his now wife, Shawnee, a nurse at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, on a cruise ship where he worked. 

Up to that point, Brenkman had only ever had a seaman’s visa, which only allowed for 48 hours in the U.S. after his work contract expired. When Brenkman married his wife, he received a green card, which, just as in Jones’ case, allowed him to live in the U.S. without the need of renewing and qualifying for visas. 

As soon as he was able, Brenkman decided to apply to become a U.S. citizen. The requirements to apply usually include at least five years of living in the country, but due to his marriage to a U.S. citizen, Brenkman only had to wait three years to apply. 

“After meeting all of the requirements and applying, the process of getting my citizenship didn’t take very long” Brenkman said. 

Brenkman received his full citizenship only two and a half months after applying. 

“Many things are a lot alike,” Brenkman said when comparing the U.S. to South Africa. “The people are very similar, but the crime is very different. It feels a lot safer here.”

Brenkman said he is proud to become a U.S. citizen, especially by doing it the correct way.

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