From Breadlines to Business Owner

Nov 6, 2017 | Olsi Vrapi

Breadlines to Business Owner, From Breadlines to Business Owner

One of my earliest memories of my grandfather is of him waiting in line at 3 AM to buy milk for our family. At age 10, I remember standing in bread lines waiting for my family’s weekly rations. But the longest lines were always for kerosene—my friends and I would wait hours for the truck to arrive. My mother needed the kerosene to cook for our family over a small kerosene stove on the balcony of our small apartment in Tirana, Albania. The strong smell of the kerosene was too much to bear in the kitchen.

This was life in the late 1980s in a communist country. And compared to others, our lives were good—my parents were intellectuals, and we lived in the heart of the capital city. With the fall of communism in Albania, my parents made the biggest sacrifice of their lives and sent me to study in the United States. This was possible largely due to the grace and sacrifice of my now law and business partner Jim Noble and his wife Pat, American Christian missionaries who hosted me in their home for years while I went to college in the US. By the grace of God, during my junior year of college, I was selected for the diversity visa lottery, also known as the green card lottery. I applied for and was granted permanent residence in the United States in September 2003.

Because of the diversity lottery, I could attend law school, meet and marry the love of my life, Krista, and have 4 beautiful children. I went into the field of immigration law to help others achieve the American dream just like I had. This was my way of paying it forward. Along with my law partner, Jim, I took our immigration law firm from a two-man operation to now employing 23 employees in four cities across two states. I have received national awards for my work in immigration law and am also an adjunct law professor at the University of New Mexico School of Law. None of this would have been possible without the diversity lottery—a program President Trump announced this week he would work with Congress to end.

As a beneficiary of the program, a U.S. citizen, a business owner, and an immigration attorney, I can tell you that ending this program is not in the best interest of our country. I am not the only success story from the diversity lottery. I recently represented a German fighter pilot instructor who, thanks to the green card he received through the diversity lottery, will continue working with our airmen to make them better pilots. And there are many, many more like us. I often joke about having won the lottery with a prize of $0, but in reality, my wealth, prosperity, and success largely stem from one crucial fork in the road of my life. The diversity lottery allowed me to build a successful business through hard work, utilizing my ambition and talents. What is more American than that?

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