Lives, livelihood hang in the balance
German bakery owners must renew their visas to keep living and working here.
By NICK JOHNSON
Published July 25, 2007
ST. PETE BEACH - The German Baker Boy, somewhat of an institution for customers in St. Pete Beach, is a place where fine German breads, sausages and pastries had been offered with friendly service.
Owners Marina and Detlef Raddant made sure of that by pouring their hearts and souls into the business for the past 10 years, until they were recently told to abandon their business.
"Our business was like our child. We put so much personal life into it, that everything else was secondary," Marina Raddant said. "Now we have nothing."
The Raddants, who are German citizens, were able to run their bakery in the United States under investor visas, which must be renewed every five years.
Their visas expired this month. When the couple flew to the U.S. Consulate in Frankfurt for their renewal application appointment, they were told that their visas would not be renewed.
On July 4, they were left stranded in Germany.
"It was such a nightmare for us because everything was here, our life, our house, our business. Everything was here," Marina said. "Afterward we had a hard, hard time on how to get information on how to get back to the U.S."
After being stuck in limbo for a week, the couple was able to return to their home in St. Petersburg on a visa waiver for German tourists, but they have only until October to get things sorted out.
In the meantime they are unable to work, which means the bakery remains closed.
The Raddants have hired attorney Jennifer Roeper to assist them with a new visa application and are in contact with U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young's office.
Roeper said visa renewal was once a straightforward process but has become more complicated in recent years, and that some applicants have a false sense of security when applying for renewal.
Young agreed that the issue is more complicated than before but felt this case was unjustified.
"We have tightened up on immigration issues, but that should not affect the Raddant family," Young said, adding that they have proved that they are productive and pose no security risk. "They've done everything they are expected to do to be in the country legally."
Young said that he was hopeful that everything would work out but that it wasn't going to be easy. "I really want to fix this, but we're dealing with some high-level international bureaucracy here that I've got to break through," he said.
One thing the Raddants have going for them is local support.
Marina Raddant said calls from customers, neighbors and friends have been pouring in, with each asking how he or she can help and offering support.
Richard Cooks of South Pasadena said he used to visit the German Baker Boy once or twice a week. After reading a Neighborhood Times article on the Raddants, he called to see how he could help.
"The place was spotlessly clean, the people were nice and they had the best sausages and baked goods in St. Pete," Cooks said. "It's just awfully sad."
Nick Johnson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 893-8361.
[Last modified July 25, 2007, 08:35:55]
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