A UK national living in Coffs Harbour for more than a decade is asking the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, Peter Dutton, to show some compassion and let her stay.
By Dom Vukovic
Suzanne Pearson said she remembered the moment when her elderly mother, living in Coffs Harbour with her father, first called her to come to Australia to act as a full-time carer.
“That’s something that older people love during the last stages of their life. Having someone around.”
Ms Pearson is currently on a bridging visa, which expires on Wednesday, March 21.
Since her arrival in 2007, the 55-year-old said she battled to renew a slew of temporary visas before the then-immigration minister Chris Bowen granted her a five-year reprieve to stay in the country to care for her parents.
But eventually, time ran out again.
“How could they force me to leave? I was mortified. My mother had had a stroke,” she said.
“Who would take care of them?”
In 2016, Ms Pearson’s parents passed away within months of each other, and after several attempts to stay the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, under Minister Dutton, has ordered her to leave the country by next week.
Prospect of starting all over again
Ms Pearson acknowledged that many people might not have empathy towards her, but she maintained she has done her best to contribute to the community and inevitably built a life for herself in Coffs Harbour.
At the prospect of going back to the UK there was a sense of hurt, anxiety and sorrow.
“I don’t know anyone anymore. I’m not going to get too emotional here but I’m devastated,” she said.
“I’ve got some very close friends here. I have two godchildren here. I’m 55 now and to start again and try make friends in a new place is too much,” she said.
While she was on temporary visas Ms Pearson said she was unable to work — according to visa requirements — so threw herself into volunteering projects.
She was recognised with a commendation from the NSW State Emergency Service for her work as a rescuer during various flood events in the region.
Sawtell Surf Life Saving Club veteran and patrol captain Jeff Gray remembered how she was also responsible for rescuing a woman during her time as a volunteer lifeguard.
“She got swept out, it was obvious she was in real difficulty,” Mr Gray said.
“She [Ms Pearson] went out there and was able to save her and bring her back in.
“She spent a lot of hours supervising swimmers between the flags for quite a few years.”
Volunteering efforts make her ‘a standout’
Ms Pearson, a qualified boating operator before she came to Australia, has lived on a rickety, old yacht at the Coffs Harbour Marina since her parents died.
“She can pretty much take a whole boat apart and rebuild it,” Coffs Harbour Marina manager Elise Curry said.
She recalled how Ms Pearson “stood out in the crowd” during a storm event that destroyed parts of the Marina in June 2016.
“We all knew the storm was coming but we were caught short because of the intensity, and Suzi was here on deck before it all started,” Ms Curry said.
“You need people to go the extra bit and volunteering is a huge part of what makes Coffs Harbour what it is.
“We had a lot of visiting boats. They had no home to go to. Prioritising who was going to be looked after … that’s what the volunteers did.
“There were people petrified. They were sitting there, they couldn’t even talk.”
Good community member does not guarantee visa
Migration expert David Prince said many people on temporary visas go through the process of seeking permanent residency, and those who have had their case rejected by a tribunal have an opportunity to ask the Immigration Minister to intervene in their case.
He said the Minister could intervene on compassionate grounds and make a decision to allow the person to stay if it was determined to be “in the public interest”.
But he said the threshold for that was generally very high and entirely up to the Minister.
“We had a woman from the Pacific islands who had leukemia and there is no chemotherapy treatment there,” Mr Prince said.
“If she goes back to that country, she dies.
“So she was successful — in that the Minister intervened in her case and she was allowed to stay.”
In a last ditch effort, Ms Pearson has applied to have Mr Dutton intervene in her case, asking that she be allowed to stay as a permanent resident.
The answer so far has been “no”, and Ms Pearson is required to leave the country by Wednesday or face the prospect of being detained.
In a statement the Department said:
Ministerial intervention is not an extension of the visa process.
A person is able to write to the Minister and request intervention, however the Minister cannot be compelled to exercise his powers and he is not required to explain his decisions on any case.
Ms Pearson has launched a change.org petition to try to change the Government’s mind and she said she still had “a sliver of hope” that she might be allowed to stay.
Editorial note (16/03/2018): A previous version of this story said Ms Pearson had overstayed her visa. Ms Pearson later clarified that she is on a bridging visa, which expires on Wednesday, March 21, 2018, meaning she has not overstayed her visa.
Originally published by the ABC on Friday 16 March 2018.