Federal Immigration Minister Andrew Giles has overturned his department’s earlier decision to deport a Colombian family based in Launceston.
The minister decided in favour of the Peñuela family and suspended the deportation order for the couple and their two daughters who have been living legally in the country for more than a decade on a variety of different visas.
The decision means that the family will be able to remain in the country under a bridging visa E until it receives a response from the government to its new application for permanent residency in Australia, which the family will submit with the advice of a migration agent.
César Peñuela and his wife Claudia Castillo arrived in Australia in 2009 with the same dream that many Latin American immigrants share: to work, build a family and stay and live in Australia.
They say they were able to stay in the country for several years with different types of visas, until Mr Peñuela obtained a regional sponsorship visa through his work, which opened up a solid path to permanent residence.
César Peñuela and his wife, Claudia Castillo, before they became parents. Credit: Facebook
The Regional Sponsored Migration Scheme Visa (subclass 187) allows skilled workers who are sponsored by their employer in a regional area of Australia to live and work in the country permanently.
If the sponsored worker meets all the requirements, the employer can initiate procedures for the employee to obtain permanent residence. But in the case of Mr Peñuela, that request was denied by the Administrative Court of Appeals.
According to the Colombian, the rejection of his application was the fault of his employer, who allegedly failed to provide the necessary documentation for his application to be approved.
As a result, the government informed the family that they would be deported to Colombia this week, however, the order changed and now the four of them will be able to remain legally after the granting of another bridging visa, while Mr Peñuela initiates a new application with the help of an immigration agent.
“We are very happy with the result we just received… my family is very happy,” Mr Peñuela told SBS Spanish.
“I am very happy for my daughters because I can continue to ensure their education and futures in Australia.”
Mr Peñuela and his daughters. Credit: Facebook
‘Overwhelming’ community support
Mr Peñuela said the support the family had received from local political representatives had also been overwhelming.
Not only had the Launceston community been very supportive of the family, the local Northern Rangers football team had set up a GoFundMe account to help them cover legal and immigration costs, he said.
“We received support from (Liberal parliamentarian) Lara Alexander and (the Liberal member for Bass) Bridget Archer, in Launceston… from Michelle O’Byrne, a local ALP member… they were responsible for gathering together all of the documentation,” he explained.
He said the documents included details of the essential work his wife had been doing in the aged care sector, the volunteer work done by the couple, and the dedication shown by their daughters both at school and in community sports, he said.
We thank Minister Giles for taking the decision to grant us this bridging visa… which allows us to stay in Australia to receive legal support and be able to apply for residency under other conditions.
“My wife works in aged care, my daughter studies and represents women’s football in Tasmania, and my wife and I volunteer in organisations such as Saint Vincent de Paul,” he added.
“Friends from neighbouring schools, the whole community sent their letters, their thoughts about us as a family, as members of the community, and the contributions we have made to the state of Tasmania in five years.”
Mr Peñuela says they also received letters of support from the Melbourne community.
“This whole package was sent to the office of Liberals Lara Alexander and Brigitte Archer and ALP Michelle O’Byrne, Senator Helen Polley, Senator Carol Brown, Liberal Senator Wendy Askew and Liberal representative Michael Ferguson and all of them brought this request with all the information from the community to the immigration ministry (in Canberra) and the minister took the time to read our profile, our history in Australia and our contribution as migrants,” Mr Peñuela said.
“We thank Minister Giles for taking the decision to grant us this bridging visa… which allows us to stay in Australia to receive legal support and be able to apply for residency under other terms, without the need to involve an employer, or a sponsor, and with a focus on our skills and work experience in Australia.”
A Department of Home Affairs spokesperson said the department did not comment on individual cases.
“All non-citizens who wish to enter or remain in Australia must satisfy the requirements of the Migration Act 1958 (the Act) and Migration Regulations 1994,” the spokesperson said.
“It is a visa holder’s responsibility to maintain a lawful immigration status while they remain in Australia.
“Individuals who no longer hold a valid visa are expected to depart Australia.”
The trauma caused by deportation
According to mental health experts, deportation is always a traumatic experience, since it involves a financially costly and, depending on the country to which the person must return, potentially risky event.
In the case of the Peñuela family, the stress of their ordeal began as soon as they learned that they could no longer stay in Australia.
Initially, the family had made their request for a permanent visa through a sponsoring employer who, according to Mr Peñuela, had failed to submit the appropriate documentation, causing the Department of Immigration to decide to cancel his visa and order deportation.
After that decision, the family had to sell all of their belongings, leave Launceston and move to Melbourne, ready for their mandated return to Colombia.
But, with the cancellation of the order this week, thanks to intense community and political campaigning, the family can now return to Launceston to continue building their new lives in Australia.
Mr Peñuela admits that it has been an extremely stressful and destablising experience especially for the couple’s daughters.
“Yes, because the little one, the seven-year-old daughter yesterday asked me; What’s going on? Are we leaving or are we staying?’.. it’s a little difficult to explain to her so that she understands everything that’s going on,” he said.
A future in Tasmania beckons
Upon learning of decision reversal, Mr Peñuela says that “the girls are very happy” to be able to return to their routines in Launceston.
“(To the youngest) we told her that she was going to return to her classroom, to her friends, to her gymnastics activities, because after the last Olympic Games, the idea of representing Australia at the Olympic Games through gymnastics began to grow in her,” Mr Peñuela said.
“My oldest daughter is very happy, because she is the one who has focused a lot on women’s football, which has taken off in recent years in Australia and the world, and right now her team in Tasmania is competing at the end of the season. She is once again part of the team’s roster to finish 2022 and start 2023.”
He said it had been an extremely difficult period for the family, which must now prepare to deal with a second phase; filing a new application for permanent residency and waiting on a response from the government.
However, Mr Peñuela says he is extremely grateful to receive a second chance to extend his stay in Australia and return to Launceston.
“Well, we left the material things, but not the community, the support from them to start this new process continues… then, we will be arriving in Tasmania again on Saturday night, and we have already received accommodation while we are looking for a house through a real estate agency. We have already made an application for a property that meets our needs as a family,” he said.
We’ll have to continue like this, step by step, it’s like this… it’s how my wife and I have always done things in 13 years… step by step… everything in its own time.
And while they prepare to return to their normal lives, the four football lovers say they are happy to be able to cheer on the Australian national team in the World Cup, from Launceston, even though they will have to “…get a television to tune in to SBS”, after they got rid of all their belongings because of the deportation order.
“I have teams that I am going to support in this World Cup, Australia and Argentina. I have my Argentinian shirt, and I think this is the year in which Messi will become a world champion, he deserves it, he is a great athlete. Australia and Argentina are my favourite teams,” Mr Peñuela said.
Listen to the full interview by pressing PLAY under the headline of this article.