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.

For the last two years, migrant movement into Australia has changed dramatically in light of COVID.  The Department of Home Affairs, Australia’s government agency in charge of migration, has executed constrain strategies that has altered the migration program to now reflect the following:

THE PRESENT

  • Only essential workers/high skilled workers and returning nationals can travel through borders.
  • Onerous quarantining for incoming passengers which is expensive and stifling business travel.
  • Processing visa for offshore international students has come to a halt.
  • Implemented quick fix-it solutions like the COVID subclass 408 visa to assist stranded migrants living in Australia.
  • Relaxing visa conditions for onshore students/working holiday makers so they can work in  COVID affected industries.
  • Stronger border closure has added an extra layer of requirements to enter and exit (i.e., travel exemptions), only adding to the anxiety of traveling in and out of the country.
  • Tourism is non-existent.
  • The General Skilled Migration program is partially operating and is unlikely to return to pre-COVID planning levels for many years.
  • World-event driven visa concessions are being given to groups of people that need refuge (e.g., Hong Kong and Afghan nationals).

Many neighboring countries continue to grapple with high COVID infections rates daily.  This, coupled with the uneven distribution of vaccines, means that countries, including Australia, will be reticent to open their borders too early in fear that their own public health systems will be overwhelmed. 

Australia has the advantage of being a borderless country and benefited from a hardened approach to border closure.  However, this will have to come to an end soon.  The full impact of this is still unknown, but what we do know is that it has had long lasting negative effects on families who have been separated, debilitated businesses and excluded migrants and Australians who are stranded overseas.

THE FUTURE

Australian migration has always been dynamic in nature but COVID has been an unprecedented event that has shifted the entire paradigm of migration policy making forever.  It is likely that public health will now underpin decisions on ‘who’ gets a visa and ‘who’ will be disqualified from entering the country.

In navigating this uncharted territory, M Legal’s lawyers believe that having the foresight to be able to spot trends will improve advice to clients and an ability plan for their futures. 

In future gazing, we have identified a number of themes that we see as shaping Australian migration over the next few years (and some may even remain in place for the long-term):

1.       Can’t travel spontaneously

It is an evident reality that travelling cannot be as straightforward as it once was. Specifically, individuals will now need to consider pre and post departure requirements that are involved with travel. This includes the necessity of being vaccinated, being tested prior to departure and upon arrival, and having to quarantine. 

We are expecting that some of these measures will continue to be in place for the long haul and will become accepted as the normal travel routine.

2.       Travel Bubbles

Travel bubbles are being created through bi-lateral arrangements formed by governments, such as Australia and New Zealand, facilitating easier travelling.  Over the coming months, Australia will be creating more of these bubbles with ‘low-risk’ countries that have high vaccination rates as a way of easing back into international travel.

3.      Vaccination Passports (Digital)

Vaccine passports (and/or certifications) are an option that many countries are considering to adopt, if not have already adopted.  Australia is one of these countries, with various states such as New South Wales and Victoria opting to implement this strategy. Vaccine passports will be the universal stamp of approval that aims to verify whether you can travel.  However, it may be a little while before the system can be trusted as governments figure out how to iron-out kinks like data privacy and security.

4.  Some restrictions remain

Governments will continue to encourage COVID etiquette such as the use of masks and social distancing, to minimise the risk of outbreaks in Australia.  We expect that the messaging around this etiquette will relax only when Australia hits its vaccination targets in due course. 

5. Reduced quotas

The pandemic has had significant impacts on migration with the Net Overseas Migration forecasting that there would be a substantial drop in migration levels to such an extent that it would be negative.  Accordingly, Australia will become even more selective, favouring individuals who will accelerate the process of the economic recovery by placing greater value on higher education levels and entrepreneurial abilities.

 6.       Stricter visa regimes

The pandemic has only intensified the difficulties in securing visas globally.  It has also cemented in many people’s view, which countries are likely to take care of its citizens during a global crisis and lead through a pandemic well.  In an effort to monitor migrant numbers, the regulatory visa framework is only likely to tighten further, making it more challenging for migrants to find a visa pathway over the coming years.

7.       Longer processing timeframes

Visa processing timeframes for applications will be lengthier.  For this reason, it will be paramount to understand how to expedite applications and be across the right short term and long term strategies to set the right expectations and work towards your migration goals.

CALL US

M Legal takes into account the big picture so if you found this article useful, give us a call to book your consultation.

Co-written by Sofia Maniam and Priscilla Shibu

COVID-19 has had devastating impacts on a global scale. Many individuals have faced, and are continuing to face challenges—whether it be loneliness, financial stress, or health problems—triggered by COVID-19. Amongst such uncertain times and in moments of helplessness and vulnerability, M Legal offers an empathetic and unique environment of lawyers who provide certainty and help.

Tailored and individualised approach

M Legal delivers services that are tailored to meet each client’s individualised needs. Every individual undergoes such different experiences and therefore, need lawyers who are experts. The last 12 months is proof that our advisors have weathered the storm, to be able to navigate clients through the complexities in law in the areas of immigration and property, that have arisen.  This is in part due to M Legal lawyers being involved in every step of the transactional process, so we can embed a deeper knowledge of our area and understand client’s pain points, to make our services better.

Lower overheads and flexibility because of being a cloud-based business

M Legal is a cloud-based practice. This gives us the flexibility and technological capabilities to work with anyone, anywhere, and at any time.  The past year has proved that the structure that M Legal has always embraced, is the best way to run a firm. Whilst other law practices might be adjusting to new changes that COVID-19 has demanded, M Legal is experienced in a cloud-based approach. This change has not affected us and we offer this stability and experience to our clients.

It also means that M Legal has lower overhead costs. The costs associated with running a conventional law firm office, is not factored into the costs that our clients are charged. We believe this is important given the financial pressures this pandemic has placed on many individuals. M Legal continues to provide quality services that are competitively priced.  

High level of experience and expertise

At M Legal, we only hire lawyers who have worked in the industry for more than five years. This means that our lawyers are specialised in such a way that their technical knowledge is perfected, ensuring that our clients receive expert advice that can only come through years of experience. Working with a lawyer from M Legal means that you will always talk to a lawyer who is experienced as opposed to a junior staff member.

Personal care, attention, and availability

Lawyers at M Legal make themselves readily available with a flexible time range. Since M Legal is a boutique law firm, any concerns from our clients can be addressed in a timely manner. Moreover, because we run our firm with a focus on personal care, clients are able to contact us at times that work better with their schedules, especially as we know most of us are at work from 9am-5pm. We know that these are trying times and so we willingly collaborate with our clients to answer every question that they might have.  We do not see it as case management. Rather, we value each individual and guide our clients so that the best possible outcomes can be achieved.

Let’s talk

In a world that continues to hold so many uncertainties, M Legal continues to be primed for uncertainty in the area of immigration and property law. We look forward to hearing from you and working with you soon.

Co-authored by Sofia Maniam and Priscilla Shibu