It is ten days to a dream: that is all they’ve got or everything ends up in a nightmare. A distraught father of four schoolchildren bids for more time in a scramble to appeal his case and be allowed to stay in Australia.
Gloom has descended on the Liverpool residence of Chester Chiong, 43, and his family after being told by immigration authorities that they had to leave Australia by July 28 or the whole family face deportation or detention.
The Chiong’s family permanent visa, granted in 2014, was cancelled last year at the height of an immigration department crackdown on a visa fraud operation which led to the jailing of a DIBP immigration officer.
Chester’s visa apparently was one of more than 50 approved applications found to have erroneous entries processed by the said immigration officer engaged in what authorities said was the biggest visa racket busted in recent years.
But Chester insisted the snafu affecting his visa application was no fault of his own.
“I didn’t even know what was happening; I didn’t even know that my application was processed with wrong entries. All I am asking now is for the authorities to grant us compassion to rectify whatever mistake has been done,” he told AK in an interview last Sunday.
He said that his application for entry to Australia was handled by an intermediary.
“We have been good residents since we arrived here. My children have been doing well in school; we practically have no home to come back to,” he said.
Chester hails from Cagayan de Oro, south of the Philippines. He was an OFW in Saudi Arabia when he started applying for entry to Australia. With a degree in electronics engineering, he currently works full-time as a metal fitter.
The cancellation of his visa (subclass 189 Skilled) means his entire family will have to leave Australia. That family includes wife Sarah and his four school-aged children currently studying in public schools: daughter Sheen, 18, a year 12 currently studying for her HSC; Jericho, 16; John Lloyd, 14; and George, 12.
“We are worried about our children, they know what’s happening and it has been affecting them,” mother Sarah said.
On July 14, the family which has appealed the status of their visa has been granted a ‘Bridging Visa’ Grant by the Immigration Department but the visa is only good for 14 days.
The Chiongs arrived in Australia in July, 2014. Like many new migrant families from the Philippines, they had gone through the initial struggle of adopting to the country – settling down, finding a job, a dwelling, enrolling the children in school, and keeping warm in a winter season.
The initial months turned rosy with Chester eventually landing a job. Sarah would also find work in a factory while the kids were enrolled in the public school.
But their joy turned into shock when, barely ten months in Australia, they received the notice of cancellation of Chester’s 189 Skilled Visa in May, 2015.
“I was shocked when I received the notice. I was told I provided wrong information in my original application but I did not,” he said.
The cancellation was based on the discrepancies found by immigration authorities pertaining to his IELTS (language proficiency) qualifications. His application showed that he had completed language proficiency qualifications but there were no records that he had sat an IELTS test.
Chester admits that he had not taken an IELTS exam but that it was not he who provided that information about the IELTS requirement.
“It is not my fault that a fraudulent visa officer processed my application for permanent residency. The erroneous info was not supplied by me nor was I consulted about it,” Chester stated in his appeal to the immigration department.
“Had I known that I needed those requirements, I would have done all necessary steps to be compliant,” he stated.
His case has been brought up to the immigration AAT (Administrative Appeals Tribunal). But his appeal for a reconsideration of his visa status has been rejected by the tribunal with the decision handed down last May.
On May 26, he filed for a ‘Request for Ministerial Intervention’ – a last recourse that will determine his and his family’s fate.
His case has drawn the support of the community including the Parish where his family regularly attends Sunday services. His current employer also vouched for Chester as a valuable worker and has brought his case to the attention of Minister for Immigration Peter Dutton.
The Filipino NGO – Migrante NSW – is also assisting Chester in his case. In a statement to the press, the Migrante said Chester’s visa should be reinstated citing Chester ended up as an innocent victim in a visa fraud that was not of his own doing.
Last year, immigration authorities busted a visa racket in the immigration department in a corruption scandal that spurred an overhaul in the visa approval process system. A Filipino-born immigration officer was eventually charged with corruption and sentenced to eight months in jail.
Among cases linked to his activities were applications of migrants from Vietnam and the Philippines.
The Chiongs have moved to Australia to pursue a dream for a better life and better opportunities especially for the children.
But their dream path had taken an unexpected ugly twist. And they are lodging their one final appeal to the highest authorities concerned.
“I am only making this plea that our visa be reinstated. My family and I deeply hope that the DIBP will show compassion on our family and that Australia will not close their doors on us,” Chester said.