Visa woes threaten to tear mother away from her son
ALL I want is to live a normal life. To get a job, make a safe and comfortable home and provide for my almost two-year-old son, but instead I'm trapped between two countries with no way out.
I have separated from my de facto partner, but as an English woman in Australia, I have no rights even though my child is Australian. I cannot get residency, I cannot get benefits, and because I have no working visa, I also cannot get a job to support us. I am cornered like a frightened animal, living in poverty, in a first-world country.
I dream of living in Australia, but I'm in a holding pattern, unable to land anywhere. I could go home to England, but my son is not allowed to leave Australia.
I met his father, Darren*, in Cairns in 2013. I was a 25-year-old footloose backpacker, loving the tropical weather, pursuing my hairdressing career and working on farms. I was here for an adventure on a student visa and did not plan on falling in love. But plans are for the foolish, and before I knew it I was caught in a whirlwind romance.
He was charismatic, and I was looking for fun. We were together for a year and half when I realised I was pregnant.
We moved to New South Wales to be closer to his family, but our relationship changed during the pregnancy. We fought a lot, and stopped getting along. I was worried, but I was committed to this child and I hoped we could work everything out and be a happy family.
My student visa ran out the day my son, Rome, was born. With the end of the visa came the end of my Medicare, so four hours after I gave birth I was told I would have to leave the hospital or pay $1000 per night. We didn't have that kind of money. I'd lost a lot of blood, but I was too exhausted to fight, so we left the hospital and headed home to what would become a nightmare.
As my visa had run out, and we did not have the requisite thousands of dollars to apply for a partner visa, we were given 29 days to leave the country. Rome and I were to apply from the UK to come back and be together as a family.
I was granted another visitor's visa when we supplied a compassionate letter stating we could not afford a more permanent visa at that time.
We planned to get the money together for the de facto application before this visitor's visa ran out and my son and I would be safely able to call Australia home.
When we arrived back in Australia things deteriorated further with Darren until one day we simply could not carry on together.
I moved out with my six-month-old son onto Darren's cousin's couch for what we thought would be two weeks. They kindly let us stay there for nine months. As a nonresident I am not entitled to benefits, legal aid or rent assistance.
On my visitor's visa I am also not permitted to work in this country. The British embassy will not help me because my son is not British.
I have nothing; no one to turn to and my hands are shackled.
Going home seemed like the only option until I realised Rome was on a flight watch. He is prohibited from leaving Australia until he is 18 years old, and I am not going without him.
Finally, Nova Women's Accommodation and Support Service in Newcastle found accommodation for my son and I. It's not fancy but I'm grateful for somewhere to call home for the moment.
After many rejections from Centrelink, my social worker went to bat for me and Rome now gets a small fortnightly payment that we both live off.
I am desperate, but I refuse to go down. I cannot see a way out of this mess, and the only person who can help us is the Immigration Minister. I'm sure there are millions of people writing letters daily, pleading for clemency and understanding, but sometimes situations aren't black and white.
I'm exhausted and frightened but I must keep fighting for my child. Every day I must get up and continue putting one foot in front of the other and hope that one day soon someone will hear my story and we will be able to sort our way through this tangle of red tape that is trying to strangle us.
In a statement to news.com.au, the Department of Immigration said: "The Department is aware of this case and encourages the individual to contact the Department to discuss her visa status and the possibility of providing work rights."
*Not his real name.