This story begins with a letter. It is a bureaucratic letter and rather boring. But it has significance. It comes from the Department Of Immigration, Local Government and Ethnic Affairs. It may or may not surprise you to learn that this letter was sent to a twelve-year old girl, a British citizen, who was visiting her father, an Australian citizen, in Australia. The girl’s step-mother approached the Bureau and requested assistance to explain Immigration Department procedures to them and to ask for assistance in keeping the child in the country. The Immigration Department had threatened to take the child into custody unless a $50 visa extension fee was paid forthwith. If not paid, the child was threatened with deportation. This situation had arisen because the family had originally been given conflicting information about the date the visa expired. So how did we, a local institution, respond to this crisis and protect the child’s interests? First, the response had to be immediate as custody and deportation were imminent.
The only way out for the family was to pay the $50 visa renewal fee even though it was not responsible for the initial confusion.
An exhaustive series of negotiations ensued with Immigration Department officials, the SA Attorney General’s Department, a constitutional lawyer and the Legal Services Commission to clarify the information at hand, to ascertain the validity of the Immigration Department’s proposed action and to put a case for the child to stay. The Bureau also facilitated contact between the family and the Immigration Department in Canberra and last, but not least, provided emotional and practical support for a family in distress.