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Stuck in the immigration sieve

  • 26 September 2008
Maybe we shouldn't have been surprised when the rejection letter arrived in the mail. After all, the Immigration Department is entrusted with separating the sheep from the goats, and our family, apparently, has some black sheep.

We are not alone. Every year thousands of immigrants line up, hoping to slip smoothly through Immigration's sieve. But for many, like us, it's not so easy.

As a family of New Zealanders and one American (me), we mistakenly assumed we would receive a warm welcome. But in 2001 the Howard Government had pulled in the reins on what once was an open and hospitable come-and-go policy between Australia and its neighbour across the Tasman.

So, by the time we hit the border in 2002 we were handed a wad of forms the size of a phonebook and pointed in the direction of the Immigration Department.

And that's where our difficulties began. Two of our young children have an inherited medical condition, a fact which doesn't win you any bonus points in the permanent residency system. In fact, it got us turned down.


After our rejection letter arrives we decide to appeal the decision to the Migration Review Tribunal (MRT), where we will join another 5000–8000 or so others, all hoping someone will listen to their story and re-think their rejection.

We read on the website that in a given year only about 50 per cent of MRT applicants succeed. Not encouraging statistics; however, for those facing the Refugee Review Tribunal only about 30 per cent get through.

Initially we are told our case should be heard by the MRT within six months. Instead, it is over a year before we are allowed to submit our defence in writing. Nearly three years will pass before our day in court and another six months before we are given an answer.

As the weeks and months pad on, we try to adapt to our uncertain status. We settle in, choosing to live like people who have a future in this country. After more than five years here our three young boys are more Australian than anything else. They play cricket and footy, sing the national anthem, recognise the nation's leaders and its history, consider themselves natives.

Watching our son sing 'I Still Call Australia Home' in his school concert feels like a family pledge of allegiance.

We struggle against being ruled by the Immigration Department,