Having immigrated to Australia from Singapore two years earlier, Raj — as he likes to be known — was searching for a new place to call home with a close-knit community and education opportunities for his children.
The town of Warrnambool, three hours west of Melbourne, stood out immediately.
"When I saw Warrnambool at a country town expo in Melbourne, I thought, 'Wow, this is what our dream land was all about'," Mr Manikam said.
"We were thinking of a land of opportunity. Coming here gave us the opportunity for our children to explore their futures without barriers. It was a dream come true."
Mr Manikam found a job in aged care working with dementia sufferers, and his wife Prema joined the local council working as an education coordinator.
His daughter, Vanisre, thrived, rising through the ranks to be named captain of Brauer College, even travelling to Canberra on a leadership scholarship where she met Nationals senator Bridget McKenzie and now-Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
For all intents and purposes, Mr Manikam thought he had done everything by the book.
That was until a medical test required as part of his application for permanent residency brought his world crashing down.
A 'risk' to Australia
Unbeknownst to him, Mr Manikam was born with the degenerative kidney disease focal segmental glomerulosclerosis (FSGS), meaning he would eventually need dialysis or a kidney transplant.
His family is now facing deportation as a result of his condition, as Immigration Department medical assessments determined his stay in Australia would result in "significant costs to the community".
Mr Manikam is devastated.
"Ever since I came here, all I've ever done is work with the community and for the community — to hear I'm a threat, reading that, it just made me ill," he said.
"I'm not here to benefit from the taxpayer. I even went to the extent of writing an advanced care directive to say I won't go for kidney dialysis or transplant even if I need it, so I've opted out of taking any taxpayer money."
The department has estimated Mr Manikam's hypothetical cost to the taxpayer at $600,000 to $800,000.
"There are many threats in Australia, least of all my dad ... you could be hit by lightning or swallowed by a shark, honestly," she said.
"He's a human who works in the community, works with senior citizens. He's the reason I'm the person I am today and have the faith to carry on, become a school captain and strive for more.
"I have no words when people say he's a threat. I just laugh, it sounds ridiculous."
Mr Manikam said he had yet to feel any symptoms of the diagnosis, and a strict diet including no alcohol, caffeine or meat meant his kidneys were in near-perfect health for his age.
"As a father and the leader of my family, I can't do anything to help this situation. I feel my health is penalising my children's future. It's devastating to me," he said.
"Seeing your children's future tumbling down because of a dad's issue, it's so difficult.
"We just don't know what to do. We are in a situation where we feel stranded."
The Manikams will become illegal immigrants on August 22.
From there, the family will apply for a bridging visa and special permission for Vanisre and her eight-year-old brother Vani to continue their schooling.
Immigration agent Linda Pendlebury, who is representing the family in their legal battle, said their loss to the community would be "absolutely devastating".
"Vanisre is finalising year 12, she's an absolutely excellent student, school captain, and the loss to Australia of not having her talents on board is enormous.
"Prema works in early childhood learning and the loss of her job would affect more than 150 families, and Raj does really special work for the elderly in the community."
Ms Pendlebury said the family needed to be considered as more than just numbers on a potential bill.
"The Immigration Department looks at the cost of the medical treatment for Raj, but they're not looking at the overall cost of what has been spent in educating these children who will benefit Australia," she said.
"This family is here. Both parents are taxpaying, income-earning, responsible adults. They've not sponged off the state once. They're hardworking. All they want to do is create a better life for them and their family."
A desperate plea
The family's fate now lies in the hands of Immigration Minister David Coleman after their appeal against the medical tribunal's original assessment was dismissed.
Mr Coleman was not available for an interview, but a Department of Home Affairs spokesperson said the medical assessment failed by Mr Manikam was designed to protect Australian people.
"It is an objective assessment to determine whether the case of an individual during their stay in Australia would likely result in significant costs to the community or prejudice the access of Australian citizens and permanent residents to services in short supply," the spokesperson said.
"For certain visas, primary criteria for the grant of the visa requires that all members of a family unit satisfy certain requirements, including health.
"The Minister only intervenes in a relatively small number of cases which present unique and exceptional circumstances and where he considers that it is in the public interest to do so.
"What is or is not in the public interest is entirely a matter for the Minister considering each case on its own merits."
'Please save my dad'
Public interest in the Manikam family's plight has boomed since Vanisre, just weeks out from her first VCE exam, posted a petition online, gathering more than 8,000 signatures in less than 24 hours.
For her the equation is simple — her dad is not a threat, he is her hero.
"I'm where I am today because of my dad," she said.
"How am I going to resettle into a life I let go of seven years ago?
"It takes a lot, when you're different, to integrate into a community. It's hard to think that someone just up there in Canberra can click fingers and determine your fate. I feel so powerless."
Mr Manikam said he was willing to do anything to make that happen.
"It's torn us up inside, but we're just holding together," he said.
"We don't know our future, but we know how much this means to everyone.
"We're scared, and lost, but this is our community. This is where we need to be. I'll do whatever it takes."
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