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It took Australian immigration officials a decade to process Wendy Van Breda and her daughter Paige’s visa applications.
Paige was 15 years old when the pair first came to Australia in 2011. She is now 25.
Last March, Wendy and Paige finally got an answer from the Department of Home Affairs, but it wasn’t what they were expecting.
The pair were told that because Paige had now grown up, and was not considered to be her mother’s dependent, both of their visa applications had been rejected.
“We were so shocked. It kind of felt like our whole world was coming down,” Paige said of the decision.
Wendy and Paige were both born in Zimbabwe, but the political and economic unrest in the African nation meant most of their family moved overseas, first to the United Kingdom and then Australia.
The pair applied for a remaining relative visa, which is open to immigrants whose immediate family members all live in Australia.
The remaining relative visa has the longest processing time of any Australian visa.
When Wendy and Paige applied for the visa in 2011, the wait time was 10 years.
It has since ballooned out to 50 years.
Wendy and Paige have been living in Australia on temporary bridging visas for the past decade.
Having appealed the department’s decision to reject their visas last year, they are still here on a bridging visa, but face the prospect of being sent back to the UK if their appeal is unsuccessful.
“We just want to be with our family, that’s all we want. It will destroy us if we had to leave. I don’t know what we will do,” Wendy said.
Wendy said she and Paige had spent the past decade building their lives in Australia, and now considered it their home.
Both she and her daughter had willingly made sacrifices to stay in Australia with the hope of being granted permanent residency, Wendy said.
Their bridging visas have allowed them to work and study but still come with restrictions.
“It’s been really hard because, with Paige, we had to pay international school fees – it was $13,000 a year for her to go to a public high school,” Wendy said.
“Paige always had a dream of being a teacher, but she can’t go to uni here because she would need to pay full fees and she can’t get a student loan or anything like that.”
After graduating from high school, Paige went to TAFE instead to get an early childhood diploma and now works in a childcare centre.
“It was the closest option I could get to being a teacher. It’s been hard having some options being taken away but I’m grateful that I’ve been able to live here with my family,” Paige said.
Wendy said she always expected their visas to be approved eventually and was stunned when they got their refusal notice in March last year.
“It’s always been kind of at the back of our minds about waiting for the visa but we weren’t so worried and we didn’t ever think it would actually be denied,” Wendy said.
“Our immigration agent was shocked too.”
In its refusal notification to Wendy and Paige, seen by 9news.com.au, the Department of Home Affairs said that because Paige was no longer Wendy’s dependent they both had a near relative who was not an Australian citizen or permanent resident – each other.
“It’s just crazy, we need to be with our family,” Wendy said.
“Also, if the department hadn’t taken so long (to process our visa application) this never would have happened.”
Visa wait times ‘a matter of urgency’
While the remaining relative visa has the longest wait time, at 50 years, the processing times for many other visas have also blown out over the last decade.
According to the Department of Home Affairs, parent visas now take about 30 years to process, orphan visas 6.3 years and carer visas 4.5 years.
The long wait times for family and partner visas were the subject of a Senate inquiry last year.
The inquiry’s final report, released in April this year, recommended that the Department of Home Affairs develop a “long-term strategy to update its system for the processing of visas” as a “matter of urgency”.
While Labor’s Immigration Minister Andrew Giles declined to comment to 9news.com.au on the remaining relative visa wait times he said tackling the visa backlog left by the Coalition government was an urgent priority.
“In terms of the extraordinary delays we’ve seen in visa processing, this is a real priority for me and an Albanese Labor government,” Giles said.
“Whether it relates to humanitarian, family reunion, or skilled visas, we need to do much better.”
Nicola Clements has been waiting eight years so far for her remaining relative visa to be processed, having applied in 2014 after coming out from the UK.
“This was the only visa I could apply for as I didn’t qualify for the skilled visa,” she said.
When Nicola first applied for the visa, she was told the wait would be 16 years. She said she was appalled when she was informed a few years ago the wait was now 50 years.
“I’m 53. If I need to wait 50 years for my visa to be processed, I’ll be dead by then.”
Nicola has since become the carer for her 84-year-old mother, who she lives with in Bunbury.
She said she had considered applying for a carer visa, but it would involve starting the visa process again and waiting the 4.5 years it takes, on average, to be granted a carer visa.
Nicola, who works in the healthcare sector, said living on a bridging visa meant she had been unable to buy her own home, despite having a deposit ready to do so.
“My immediate issue is housing, because I can’t seem to get a rental that is long term,” she said.
“Every year or every two my mum and I have to move. My mum is 84 and it’s a lot for her to keep moving.
“She keeps asking me, ‘When do you think we’re going to have to move again?'”
Nicola said living on a temporary visa was stressful and weighed on her mind.
“If they cancel my visa, I would have to go back to the UK and leave mum, she would be stuffed,” she said.
“I also wouldn’t have a job, a house, any family. I’ve sort of lost contact with everybody there.
“I try not to push it away and not think about it because I get so depressed thinking about it.”
Contract reporter Emily McPherson at [email protected]