• Kayla and Max on the road. (Supplied)Source: Supplied
We live out of our backpacks and work in one Asian country to the next. It sounds like a dream come true, but our adult ‘gap year’ is thanks to an immigration nightmare where we cannot return home.
Kayla Robertson

23 Sep 2016 - 11:18 AM  UPDATED 23 Sep 2016 - 11:23 AM

On 26 September, 2014, immigration lawyers around the country awoke to an email.

It read:

The Department of Migration and Border Protection’s website is reporting extensive queues for other family visas:

Remaining Relative visa – approximately 56 years

The Australian Government had been attempting to abolish the Remaining Relative visa, which allows non-national family members of Australian citizens and residents to move to the country.

But these efforts were disallowed by legislation. In a heavy-handed response, the government implemented a ludicrous 50-year processing time to deter any applicant hoping to apply and reunite with their loved ones.

Nearly two years later, this detail is buried deep within immigration fine print and almost impossible to find on the Australian Government’s website.

I know this because my British-born boyfriend Max qualifies for this visa to join his family in Melbourne – and it has implicated me in the process.

Six months later and we find ourselves living on a shoestring by travelling from one Asian country to the next, working on short film contracts while keeping meticulous records of our life together for the application.

Multicultural families: Alone and unsupported?

I was born and raised in Melbourne, coming from a family of British immigrants. My grandparents moved to Australia in the 1960s as part of the ‘Ten Pound Pom’ migration scheme that encouraged tens of thousands of Brits to our shores. My family is proud to come from two great countries, as am I.

Max’s family also has strong Australian ties. His sister moved from London more than 10 years ago and became an Australian citizen after marrying a local. She has three Australian-born children, with the infamous twang in their accents to match. Five years ago, Max’s parents joined them in becoming permanent residents of Australia. This year they will qualify as citizens.

Max moved to Australia on a Working Holiday visa to be with them and continue his work in filmmaking. He soon met me – another filmmaker – and we fell in love.

Three months into our relationship, Max visited an immigration lawyer to kick-start the process of applying for the Remaining Relative visa - the most relevant visa for him to reside in the country.

He quickly learnt that not only did the visa require a 50-year ‘queuing’ time, but he was ineligible for any other visa; including the Skilled Migrant visa, despite his master’s qualification in Television Production and decade of professional experience.

Each time I file a receipt, I find myself asking: what would have happened to Max if we had not met?

His only option was to leave Australia with me – still fresh in our courtship - and apply for a Partner visa in 12 month’s time after meeting the application’s rigorous requirements. In comparison to the Remaining Relative visa, the Partner visa takes an average of 12 to 15 months to process.

Six months later and we find ourselves living on a shoestring by travelling from one Asian country to the next, working on short film contracts while keeping meticulous records of our life together for the application.

Each time I file a receipt, I find myself asking: what would have happened to Max if we had not met?

The cultural fabric of modern Australia is made up of hardworking immigrants. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 28 per cent of Australia’s population was born overseas. Yet our bureaucratic immigration policies are leaving millions of these multicultural families unsupported and alone.

It seems bizarre that the government deems a new partnership more worthy of acceptance than uniting one of these family units.

Peculiar still, is the misguided focus of the Department of Migration and Border Protection.

The department estimates that at any given moment there are roughly 60,000 tourists and temporary migrants who overstay their visas in Australia. That is thousands of people who are potentially working illegally, not paying tax and living unlawfully in the country.

It seems absurd that the government looks to penalise legitimate family members of Australian citizens and residents when hoards of illegal immigrants are slipping through the cracks.


Reunion chances are slim 

When I contacted the Department of Immigration and Border Protection for clarification on the processing times for visas in the Other Family category, their response was interesting:

Five hundred places were allocated to the Other Family category in the 2015-16 Migration Programme, which includes Remaining Relative, Carer and Aged Dependent Relative visas.  The majority of these places go to Carer visa applicants given the compelling nature of most applications. There is no provision to prioritise one application over the other, as all queued applications are processed in date lodgement order to ensure that applicants, who may be in similar circumstances, are not disadvantaged.

With just five hundred visas allotted to the Other Family category, Max’s chances of living with his family in Australia without me are clearly very slim.

Despite all of this, I consider us two of the lucky ones. We are able to pull together the fees for a lawyer to guide us through the labyrinth of immigration legislation, and by sheer determination our travels have boosted rather than hindered our careers.

But I think about all of the other multicultural families who are out there, right now, trying their very best to reunite and prosper.

I asked our lawyer what these families do in Max’s situation; how do they join their loved ones in Australia?

His answer was simple: “Many of them can’t.”


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