Outrage From The Outback: An Australian Visa Fiasco

I took it personally until I saw a similar letter, almost verbatim, posted by an Indian on his Australian visa refusal

Outrage From The Outback: An Australian Visa Fiasco

My daughter resides in a lovely corner of New South Wales (NSW), Australia. The sleepy town of Griffith (my friends there grudge my characterisation of the place) lies in the northwest of NSW at the edge of the large semi desert that constitutes the center of the continent. The town is five hours drive north from Melbourne, Victoria and eight hours drive west from Sydney. Once considered uninhabitable due to paucity of water, the area was transformed into a rich farm and cattle land by the construction of dams, weirs and canals on the Murrumbidgee River. 

The river, a tributary of Murray river, is not large but it's every drop of water is utilized, for agriculture, cattle farms and human consumption. The river and its major tributaries are regulated by fourteen dams and eight large weirs. Two major dams are Burrinjuck, capacity 1.026 million mega litres (0.8 million acre-feet), and Blowering, capacity 1.628 million mega litres, (roughly 1.3 million acre-feet). They are comparable to Mohmand dam (River Swat) in size. Compare that with the 7 million acre- feet and 11.6 million acre-feet capacities of Mangala (River Jhelum) and Tarbell (River Indus) dams.

From 2006/2007 to 2020, we have visited Griffith no less than six times. Three of these visits were 10 to 12 months long. We have never violated the terms of our visa. We never overstayed and didn't work anywhere, though my expertise in software and AutoCAD (better than most AutoCAD operators, I am certain) could have gotten me a well-paying job. I didn't even try because I am not, and never have been, a lawbreaker. On an 80 km/hr road, I drove at 78/79 and on a 110 km/hr road, at 105/108. In all my driving over NSW and Victoria, I haven't even earned a traffic ticket. My younger daughter has visited Griffith thrice, her young daughter and my son in law once each, and returned well before expiry of their visa limit. We have acted within the law and thought that, because of our travel history, we would never be refused a visa.

We were, therefore, genuinely shocked and anguished when our visa application for a visitor visa, the same that we have applying for in the past, was refused in this September. The reason mentioned was that we were likely to stay back. We had attached enough documents to indicate our landed properties, our family ties, our social standing and strong financial position to guarantee our return. I also mentioned that I was a columnist for a popular English language local weekly. The language used by the visa officer, as copied below, was at pains to say that she had considered all these factors yet felt that we wouldn't return in time. It’s like a judge saying that by all evidence, the accused is not guilty but I must punish him. I quote the relevant paras from the refusal letter. 

"I have considered the current economic situation in the applicant’s country of residence of Pakistan and note the significant differences in inflation, wages, unemployment, and standards in living conditions compared to Australia. I have also considered the current security situation as well as the social and political unrest in the applicant’s country of residence and note the differences in conditions compared to Australia. 

Having considered the current situation in Pakistan in conjunction with the applicant’s financial circumstances, I am not satisfied the applicant has demonstrated sufficient incentive to return to Pakistan after their intended stay. I have placed significant weight on this factor for refusing the visa. 

I note that the applicant has previously travelled to Australia. I have considered this previous travel and given it some weight in my assessment. However, based on the applicant’s overall circumstances as outlined in this decision record, the applicant has not demonstrated that he intends a genuine temporary stay."

Having interacted with Australians at length, I know that the visa officer wouldn't know where Pakistan is and whether we live in tents, huts or houses. Most think that we live in a desert and depart this world without seeing a mountain or a waterfall or snowfall. That's about the gist of their view about Pakistan, leave alone the knowledge about its inflation or economic situation. During one of my previous visits, I twice gave presentation on our country in two of local groups, with attendance of about fifty each. The audience were surprised to see bright female professionals in medicine, business and industry. The mounds of agricultural produce were an eye opener for that farmer's community. They had a new appraisal of our land. We are a mess on macroeconomic level but we still produce sufficient and some surplus for our population, and many of us live a better life than Australia can offer.

Obviously, the visa officer has access to some embassy reports from Australian High Commission here. But reading a report is one thing and its application another. Probably, the High Commission report didn't mention that the country is also full of people who are honest, upright and professionals who love their land. Above all, denying visa for parents to visit their children is inhuman, human rights violation and oppressive. Even the jails do better than that. My children and grandchildren are not in jail. They are respectable citizens and professional. This decision is apartheid at its worse.

Everyone is entitled to make mistakes and Australian Home Affairs Department has made a mistake of judgment in this case. The visa officer, who made the evaluation, has grossly erred. If an Australian official is reading this, let him/her know that I would stay an ocean away from that southern land if part of my family didn't reside there. I have travelled to a few countries in the past and, personally, have no incentive to go to Australia. Without a part of my family there, Australia would have been the last country on my list of destinations. Turkey offers better beaches, Italy has better architecture, Egypt and Jordan have far more interesting history, Spain has better wines and Moldova better girls. Australia has nothing comparable to these. Part of Australia is beautiful but all it has to offer is a Harbour bridge, a uniquely designed Opera House and Darling Harbour. Seeing them once is sufficient, and I have seen them thrice; for want of any other place to visit. Their short history is full of discrimination against the original Aboriginal population; a fact that most Australians would like us to forget. But why continue with the same policy of discrimination 'by other means?'

The reason for refusal, as stated in the letter above, is that due to the political, economic, inflationary and law-and-order situation in Pakistan, we were likely to stay back and not return. Well, my dear authorities; my wife and I have been to Australia six times and have always returned before expiry of our visa, have never applied for overstay and, despite extensive driving, haven't earned even a traffic ticket. Now, the question is: how many times does one have to go to that country and come back without overstaying to prove that one has no intention of violating the visa terms? Is six times not sufficient? We were there during the height of Covid pandemic, yet we came back in time by paying an exorbitant amount for our return ticket. The conclusions of the visa officer defy reason. The decision can be appealed against at Administrative Appeals Tribunal; but at a cost of 3,000 dollars, nonrefundable!!! I realize the prohibitive fee is not Australian (in)justice but bureaucratic tyranny. Come on Aussies: I know you are better than that. 

This author feels insulted and humiliated. I took it personally until I saw a similar letter, almost verbatim, posted by an Indian on his Australian visa refusal. It was a good example of bureaucracy at work. Justice is blind but humane and tries utmost not to penalize an innocent; bureaucracy is unjust, heartless and doesn't differentiate, even for the sake of optics, between the guilty and the innocent. Justice assumes innocence till found guilty; bureaucracy assumes guilt and doesn't even try to consider innocence. 

I am a firm believer in the Socratic and later ideas of social contract. One must respect the law even if it seeks to take one’s life unjustly. Here it is only a visa refusal. The way I see it, the law is just, even when it is unjust. A law and a system that granted me visa six times in the past has now decided to deny the same. 

By all appearances and logic, the system has erred but I respect the decision. 

However, for the sake of spending time with my daughter and my grandchildren, I shall apply again with the hope that the system error is corrected. I don't expect that system to be too witless to understand its malfunctions.

Parvez Mahmood retired as a Group Captain from the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) and is now a software engineer. He lives in Islamabad and writes on social and historical issues. He can be reached at: parvezmahmood53@gmail.com