Yunn Chen is an immigration lawyer and features in the new SBS documentary series Who Gets To Stay?
Yunn Chen is an immigration lawyer and features in the new SBS documentary series Who Gets To Stay?

One of Australia’s toughest jobs revealed

Imagine having found the person you want to spend your life with and being married to them for years, only to be told that your relationship looks to be fake.

That's the heart-wrenching case for a client of mine, Australian citizen Satinder who's been living apart from her husband Summit for three years.

She's here in Australia and he in India as they await the delayed processing of their Partner visa.

Despite being married, having evidence of their daily FaceTime, social media and text messages and documents showing their commitment to each other, the authorities concluded that the relationship was not real and refused Sumit's application.

Breaking this devastating news to Satinder was heartbreaking.

Desperate to restart a normal married life with Summit and to start a family, the years of waiting and living in limbo had taken a toll on her mentally, and she attempted to take her own life.

 

Satinder and Yunn discuss her heartbreaking case.
Satinder and Yunn discuss her heartbreaking case.

 

When I was told, it brought me to tears. It's hard to know that the news that you deliver can have such a deep and profound impact, even though it's not your decision.

I've been an immigration lawyer now for almost seven years. Immigration is one of the most complex and fast-changing areas of law. It allows applicants to come here for love, family, business or safety.

But the rules are baffling to those whose lives depend on getting it right, often requiring legal advocacy to navigate the system.

And with wait times increasing from months to years and the number of appeals doubling in recent years, there are many in our community whose lives are put on hold pending a decision.

One of the best things about the job is being able to give a ray of hope to those looking to migrate, but on the flip side we're there for the disappointment when those hopes aren't realised.

Yunn Chen is an immigration lawyer and features in the new SBS documentary series Who Gets To Stay?
Yunn Chen is an immigration lawyer and features in the new SBS documentary series Who Gets To Stay?

 

When I first heard about the new SBS documentary Who Gets to Stay in Australia, I was hesitant to put myself and my clients in the spotlight.

They all had the same questions before partaking: "Would this harm our case? Will our stories be misrepresented?"

But they also had the same hope that maybe if they told their stories, they can help others avoid the same hardship.

Maybe, they thought, others might not feel so alone in their struggles with the uncertainty of migration. And with that intention they let the cameras and the Australian public into their private lives.

What you'll see in this documentary is some of the most difficult parts about the migration process.

You will get a sense of the daily waiting, the fear, and the slow decline of mental health. They don't get to plan their families, their careers, where they'll be this time next year. So many lives hang on the decisions made by the immigration department.

You'll hear stories like Satinder and Sumit's as well as that of Luciano, a Peruvian man who may be made to move back to Peru without his Australian partner Drew or the HIV medication his life depends on.

Their partner visa was refused but they are appealing to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal and have been waiting almost two years for a new hearing.

For Luciano, a return to Peru would seriously compromise his health, and may severely cut short his life expectancy.

Some people may have strong views on people who have overstayed a visa, or have a criminal history, or have made mistakes in the past. Some might say that punishment through a visa outcome is justified.

But how much punishment is enough? Often the price has already been paid for prior mistakes. And as you'll see in the series, when one migrant suffers, there are Australian families and communities directly, and very deeply affected.

It is such a privilege to be born into Australian citizenship that some may not understand the difficulties of those seeking the same. I represent three individuals who feature in the series.

 

Yunn and Luciano at a hearing about his application.
Yunn and Luciano at a hearing about his application.

 

Growing up Chinese in Malaysia, my parents had - very traditionally - ingrained in me and my sisters that we were to pursue law, medicine or accounting.

After migrating to Australia when I was 16, I wasn't aware that I would be passionate about justice when choosing a career in high school, but in hindsight law was the right choice.

And while I wish I could say that Satinder and Luciano's cases were rare, and that what they went through is unusual, these are the kinds of matters I and other tireless and compassionate immigration lawyers and agents work with day after day.

By shedding light on these journeys, I hope that viewers can acknowledge that migrants are often people who have had to do more, prove more, wait longer, and even suffer more, just to be here.

Yunn Chen is a Melbourne-based immigration lawyer.

She features in the new SBS documentary series Who Gets To Stay in Australia (Wednesday July 1 at 8.30pm on SBS) following 13 permanent residency applicants as they navigate the complex immigration system

 

 

Originally published as One of Australia's toughest jobs



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