Getting to the AAT
Originally from the U.S., I arrived in Australia in February 2017. I began working with M Legal after my 457 visa application was refused in August 2018. The day I met Sofia I was overwhelmed and confused after learning the news of my visa refusal. I remember appreciating how calm and attentive Sofia was as she listened to my situation and we began what would turn out to be a 3-year journey with the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.
Fear, Gratitude and Everything In Between
Appealing my visa refusal decision with the AAT came with, frustration, gratitude and a broad spectrum of emotions that go hand in hand with awaiting an outcome over which you have little control. Some days I was anxious about the potential of leaving behind the life that I loved in Sydney, where I had spent close to 4 years deepening relationships with friends, colleagues, my cat Audre and people who I now consider family. There were moments that I’d see Sydney’s skyline or times I’d spend at a favourite beach or café and – despite my appreciation for being where I was – feel a twinge of unease. Because every time I thought about how much joy these places brought me, I would remember that my rights to stay were precarious. Once we all found ourselves in a global pandemic, I worried that if I was forced to leave the country, it could be years until I found a way back, an unfair situation that so many people who deserve to be in Australia are experiencing.
Other days, my AAT matter wouldn’t cross my mind at all. At one point – when multiple years had gone by – I remember thinking “maybe my application got lost in cyberspace” or “maybe I’ll just be here on a bridging visa for the rest of my life.” Often I’d stop and appreciate that if I did have to leave, I had a safe place to return, knowing that for some people, leaving Australia is a question of physical or emotional safety. This is only one of the additional complexities that many migrants might face, which my experience can’t speak to.
A few times the Department came back to ask for further information which tended to be both stressful and exciting – I’d think a decision was coming, only to continue waiting for months. It was an exhausting process and there were days when I wondered if I should throw in the towel and leave Australia.
The emotional and technical challenges felt immense, and this was with heaps of things working in my favour: I had unwavering support from my employer and boss, whose guidance I would have been lost without and will be forever grateful for, friends in America and Australia who listened to and encouraged me throughout this process, the financial means to engage a legal advisor, the type of bridging visa that allowed me to continue working while awaiting an outcome, I speak English as a first language, and the colour of my skin gives me privilege in a patriarchal, colonialist society and system that doesn’t offer everyone the same.
Confusing and Complex Migration Laws
Australia’s migration laws are mind boggling to say the least. I spent hours throughout this process trying to explain to people in my life what was happening with my visa situation, what Australia’s migration laws meant for it, and why so many seemingly practical suggestions and observations just weren’t applicable to the migration legal system.
When I first applied for my visa it was called a 457, which is now the 482 visa scheme. There are countless types of visas, and within each type there are sub types, which all have different conditions. Different bridging visas give different permissions. Add Covid-19, lockdowns and border closures to the mix, and things become even more complex. I can only imagine what it would be like trying to navigate the immigration system with English as a second, third or fourth language and am in awe of the many migrants who do this.
There were numerous benefits throughout this process to working with a legal advisor – something I’d highly recommend doing if you’re able to – the number one being that the migration laws can be near impossible to understand, especially with no expert guidance.
A Hopeful Outlook With No Sugar-Coating: Putting My Faith in M Legal
Letting go of control when it feels like your entire livelihood is at stake is no easy task. However, there came a point when putting faith in Sofia and M Legal to navigate me through this situation was all I could do. Trusting Sofia was critical to this entire process, and I had to recognise which aspects of the situation were mine to take responsibility for and which ones required me to let go of control.
Aside from having a crystal ball, the qualities in a legal advisor that I found to be essential were a strong understanding of the migration laws’ technicalities, high attention to detail, patience and honesty. Sofia’s honesty was something I appreciated throughout the process – she didn’t sugar-coat anything and never gave me false hope while at the same time encouraging me to stay positive about my case.
Sofia wrote a lengthy and thorough submission for the AAT, which was a critical element of my matter. During the hearing, the Member commented on the strength of the submission, and although I still didn’t know the outcome, his comment reassured me that we had put our best foot forward.
I’m grateful for Sofia’s patience throughout this process, which took double the time we expected due to Covid-19 compounding and lengthening an already-long wait period. On top of this, Sofia was always attentive and thorough in answering my questions, which ranged from “what does this migration law mean,” to “what happens if abc happens and then xyz happens,” to “when are we going to hear from the AAT??!??!” which no one really had an answer to.
Silver Linings and Lessons Learned
Now that I’ve had a positive outcome with my matter, which has resulted in a two-year temporary work visa, I’m able to better appreciate the silver linings and lessons learned during my AAT matter. I got to see and learn about a part of the immigration system which I wouldn’t otherwise have been exposed to, I ended up getting additional time in Australia, which my visa wouldn’t have given me had it been accepted initially, I had practice getting on with life in the midst of uncertainty (as I think we’re all learning how to do at the moment), and learned to feel stable within myself while being rocked by a turbulent visa situation that made my whereabouts in a month unpredictable.
If you’re in the thick of navigating a matter with the AAT, or any other visa situation which might be putting you in limbo, here’s what I learned (which is far from legal advice or expertise) along the way if it helps:
1. Come up with a Plan A, B and C.
2. Invest your time in this process, even when you’d rather be doing something else and your situation feels frustrating and unfair.
3. Engage with the process and take ownership over your situation even if you do work with a legal advisor – your advisor won’t ever be an expert in your life the way that you are.
4. Read any documents related to your matter thoroughly and then read them again.
5. Ask questions and double check things if you’re unsure.
6. Once you’ve done all the work you can, submitted your information and come up with your contingency plans, stay present and enjoy your time in Australia (way easier said than done but always worth trying).
7. Get support from your friends and family, whatever that looks like – sometimes talking about your situation helps, sometimes it doesn’t.
8. If your AAT matter has to do with a work visa, prepare for your hearing the way you would a job interview.
9. At your AAT hearing, breathe, take a conversational approach, ask questions if anything feels unclear, sell yourself and don’t leave anything unsaid.
10. Hang in there, it’s worth the wait.
This article was written by Chloe Sarapas, an M Legal client who has written her story, all in her own words, without any editing by M Legal lawyers. This is in the hope that this content will be helpful to future clients opting to appeal their decision at the AAT and choose M Legal as their representative.