Many Americans can trace their family’s humble beginning to an immigrant. Behind every immigration, there is a story which the paperwork, interviews and visas cannot tell.
UMKC student-athlete graduate Wieslawa (Wiesia) Zakrzewska emigrated from Poland and now works to help educate international students interested in living and working in her adopted country. Her personal journey to citizenship took 15 years.
Zakrzewska grew up on a farm two hours outside of Warsaw, Poland’s capital. While working on the farm, collecting eggs, feeding chickens and managing the sugar weeds, Zakrzewska remembered watching the planes go overhead.
“Someday I am going to sit on a plane,” Zakrzewska remembered thinking. “I don’t know where I am going to go, but I’m going to sit on the plane.”
The first plane Zakrzewska would sit on brought her to the United States to play basketball for UMKC.
“I had two bags, a backpack, and I think $50 in my pocket,” Zakrzewska said. “I packed my bags knowing I wouldn’t see my family for a year.”
She came in 1998 on a F1 visa from the US embassy in Poland, the most common visa for international students. The visa allows full-time school and 20 hours part-time work on campus. Zakrzewska studied business administration and played basketball, all the while growing more American.
“You get immersed in this American culture and you like it, because it’s the freedom, it’s the liberty of space,” Zakrzewska said.
The language barrier was the most difficult thing Zakrzewska faced in her first six months living in Kansas City. This was also the most important thing to overcome, because it gave her a circle of friends which helped her in the challenges she would face.
After graduating from UMKC, Zakrzewska filed for optimal practicum training, which allows international students to gain work experience for one year in their field of study. During this one-year period she learned her desire to make Kansas City her home and begin a career as a paralegal.
The challenge of finding a company willing to take a chance on a fresh graduate was amplified because Zakrzewska was not a citizen.
After her one-year visa she gained a H1-B temporary visa, which is not a green card, but allows an immigrant with a degree to legally work in the United States for three years and can be renewed once. To file for a green card her employer would have to interview other applicants for her job. Her six years of experience had to be proven to the department of labor by seeking her replacement and failing.
“That’s a nerve racking thing,” Zakrzewska recalled.
Zakrzewska gained her citizenship in 2015. Much of her career as a paralegal has been in immigration. She started her own company last year, Innovative Immigration Solutions LLC with her growing circle of friends. International students interested in living and working in the United States can contact firstname.lastname@example.org or find information at www.immigrationattorney.solutions.