Alenka S, who asked not to use her full surname, said she had exhausted all of her options to stay in the country with her son Oliver after a work visa sponsorship fell through, with the “last resort” being a costly parent visa.
She now has around 40 days before her current student visa expires and she is forced to return home, separating Oliver from his father, grandparents and great-grandparents.
“Our family is desperate,” said the 37-year-old, who has been in the country for the five years and currently works as a pilates teacher and fitness trainer.
“If I have to leave most likely I will have to take Oliver with me. This could traumatise him for the rest of his life. Our family will be torn apart, we won’t know when we are going to see each other again. Oliver will lose a parent and potentially a whole family.”
According to a breakdown of costs from Alenka’s immigration lawyer, she would need to apply for first a temporary parent visa and then a permanent parent visa for a total of $51,420 — not including legal fees.
Because Alenka has separated from Oliver’s father, she is unable to apply for the much cheaper partner visa, which costs around $7000.
But as the process can take up to three years, she would need to re-apply for another student visa in the meantime. If that is rejected, she would then have to go the Administrative Appeals Tribunal to seek to have the decision overturned, at a cost of $10,291, including $8000 in legal fees.
The total cost for the entire process is estimated at $74,711, including $16,000 in legal fees, according to a YouCaring fundraising page set up by one of Alenka’s friends.
“When I contacted my [immigration] agent, he said you can’t apply for another student visa because you’ve been in Australia for quite a long time and they’ve made the rules really strict, and because you have a child most likely they wouldn’t agree to extend for another one-and-a-half years,” she said.
Having a child who is an Australian citizen “unfortunately doesn’t give me the right to stay”, she added. “I respect that, because otherwise there would probably be lots of people coming in and having a baby here,” she said.
“I respect the law in Australia, I’m not trying to say it’s too hard or there should be a change or anything, we just unfortunately don’t have that big amount of money which is required. We are all average working people.”
Alenka said Oliver’s Australian family was “counting down the days” until separation. “They all love him, but if we have to leave it would be really difficult for us to see them,” she said.
“I would have to return back to my country and start a new life there. He’s only one year old so travelling for him would be really difficult. His father is working hard so for him it’s also difficult, it’s so far away.”
Alenka said if she ended up raising more money than necessary, she would donate it to an “organisation that helps other Aussie kids in a similar situation”. “I really like people in Australia, I met lots of great friends here and people who are willing to help, they are very nice. I like to be part of the community,” she said.
Immigration lawyer Erskine Rodan OAM, chairman of the Law Council of Australia’s Migration Law Committee, said the costs seemed about right. “The father doesn’t want to lodge an application for a partner visa, [so] there’s no immediate visa available to her,” he said, describing Alenka’s situation as unusual.
“In the olden days before 1989 you had a visa that would let someone stay on compassionate grounds. There is no actual visa for this situation, that’s why it’s such a spiderweb.
“There is a parent visa for younger people but you have to be overseas when you apply, [there is another for which] you can be here [when you apply] but you have to have some other visa allowing you to stay here.”
Mr Rodan said the large processing fees were brought in 15 years ago under then Attorney-General Philip Ruddock as a way of ensuring contributed to their Medicare costs. “The government gets about $3 billion a year from application fees,” he said. “That’ll go up.”
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