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‘Most days, I eat only once’: What it’s like to live without a visa in Australia

Mr Kumar has been without any legal right to live in Australia. However, he is not ready to leave the country. Source: Supplied

An Indian man living illegally in Australia says everyday life is a struggle for him, with the fear of being deported making him live like a fugitive. He says he has been "wronged by the system" and believes he hasn't done anything wrong.

Mr Kumar* doesn’t have a phone number, he doesn’t drive, has no fixed address, no job, hence no money, and doesn’t know whether he’ll get to eat three meals a day.

He was like any normal person with a normal life. But then his Australian visa ran out and he stayed on and became what’s known as an ‘unlawful non-citizen’.

There are tens of thousands of people living without visas in Australia, who have no legal status and have to live in hiding and work in exploitative conditions with a constant fear of being caught and deported.

“As soon as I step out on the streets, I watch for any police officers, or for that matter any government authority. I am constantly looking over my shoulder,” Mr Kumar said.

“Despite having lived here for so long and regardless of what happened to me, if I get caught, I will be deported in no time.”

"I live in shared accommodations for as long as I can and borrow money from friends to pay the rent. When I can't pay the rent, I have to find places to stay. I have spent many nights in the open, on the river bank." 

He was refused an extension to his student visa in 2011 and subsequently lost his bid for a partner visa in 2015. The Home Affairs Minister refused to intervene in his case and he was told to leave Australia four years ago.

Mr Kumar
Supplied

But he didn’t leave despite not having a visa and continued to live in Australia illegally.

“Because of that, I have no rights here. I have to make do with whatever money I have and that, on many occasions, isn’t enough to even buy a meal,” said Mr Kumar fighting back tears.  

He says he does odd jobs posted on Gumtree for cash.

“It’s like, once a week or two days a week that I get some work and make $100 or $200 and I’m able to buy food, if not, I sleep without eating. But there are times when despite doing the job, I’m not paid. But there’s nothing I can do about it, I can’t go to the police. So, it’s damn tough,” he says.

But why doesn’t he go back?

“I have thought about it many times. But there’s only one thing that stops me – that I have done nothing wrong by taking action against domestic violence,” he says.

Mr Kumar believes he has been “wronged by the system”.

“I am in this situation because I spoke out against my partner for subjecting me to family violence. If I hadn’t, I wouldn’t be hiding like criminals.”

Mr Kumar had a Bridging Visa E when he married an Australian citizen in May 2013 who was the sponsor of his partner visa. But the visa application was refused and he was told that he did not meet the criteria for partner visa. He said his wife had a serious medical condition and needed his ongoing support. So, he claims he couldn’t have left her in that situation and she didn’t want to go to India as she had fallen seriously ill during a previous visit to the country.

Mr Kumar said his wife was “more than willing” to support him in the Migration Review Tribunal. However, by the time his appeal against the visa refusal came up for hearing, he claimed his wife began mistreating him and became violent to him. A court issued a protection order, asking his wife to be of “good behaviour” towards Mr Kumar and not commit domestic violence against him.

He asked for a visa on the grounds that he was a victim of family violence. However, the Tribunal noted that the violence against him did not start “straight away” and it could only be a ground for overturning the visa refusal if it had existed at the time of the application.

He requested the then Immigration Minister to intervene in his case.

“But the minister did not exercise his power despite my circumstances clearly showing that I was a victim of family violence. 

“What kind of system is this where an innocent man is punished for someone else’s crime? I am being punished because I was a victim of family violence. Does that mean the system wanted me to put up with family violence?”

According to the Department of Home Affairs, 2,730 people received visas under the family violence provisions between 2012 and 2018.

The Department says both men and women can avail of the provisions.

“Family violence provisions allow eligible Partner visa applicants to leave a violent relationship without the risk of losing their right of residence in Australia,” a Department spokesperson told SBS Punjabi.

“Since 2012 almost 400 men have been granted a visa on the basis of having been found to have suffered family violence.”

Indian nationals have received more visas under the provisions than any other country. Since 2012-13, over 280 Indians have been granted permanent residency on the basis that they suffered family violence.

Mr Kumar says his case is such that’s “not anticipated by legislation”.

The Department of Home Affairs says that the family violence provisions allow eligible Partner visa applicants to leave a violent relationship without the risk of losing their Australian visa.

These provisions are made available to the holders of Temporary Partner Visa (subclass 309, 820, 300), Bridging Visa (granted at the time of their Partner visa application lodgement), other Temporary Visa (student visa, guardian visa, tourist visa) only if they already lodged a valid application for partner visa, Distinguished Talent Visa and applications for skilled stream (Business) visas lodged before 1 July 2012.

But, despite hitting a legal dead-end and living like a fugitive, he is not willing to leave Australia.

"I think myself an Australian and I haven’t done anything wrong. I just want my visa back,” he says.

"I also want a justification for the refusal of my partner visa. I provided them with the evidence - a protection order by a court - and I'm the one facing deportation."

*His last name.

If you or someone you know needs help, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit www.1800RESPECT.org.au. You can also call MensLine Australia on 1300 789 978 and Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467. In an emergency, call 000.

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