Ocean Reef family denied work rights following visa red tape

Amanda and Steve Plumridge (Ocean Reef) with daughter Rosie (14). Photo: Martin Kennealey
Amanda and Steve Plumridge (Ocean Reef) with daughter Rosie (14). Photo: Martin Kennealey

“IT feels like a game is being played with our lives – and we haven’t been explained the rules.”

This is how Amanda Plumridge described what her Ocean Reef family has been going through since Christmas.

Mrs Plumridge, her husband Steve and children Megan (18) and Rosie (14) migrated to Perth from the UK four years ago.

Before coming to Australia, Mrs Plumridge – a degree-qualified drama teacher – had a franchise of Pyjama Drama, which provides therapeutic and educational drama classes for children under seven to help develop social and communication skills.

While studying an associate degree in childcare in Perth, Mrs Plumridge saw there was no comparable program to Pyjama Drama in WA and gained approval to bring it to Australia.

She worked part-time while studying but the business started to grow, so to work full-time she started the process to obtain the appropriate visa.

After being approached by people wanting to buy a franchise from Pyjama Drama, she also started the nomination process for permanent residency so she could support them to build their businesses.

The State Government supported the application with a positive Regional Certification in March 2016 but in October of that year, the nomination was refused, saying the business would not have the capacity to support Mrs Plumridge for two years.

Her visa was also later refused and so applications to review both were lodged.

But it was refused again at the Administrative Appeals Tribunal in December 2017.

During this time, the couple have held bridging visas with work rights, with Mr Plumridge also employed as a disability services officer for The Autism Association of WA.

The couple sought legal advice and their lawyer identified at least five points of jurisdictional error in the tribunal decision and requested a hearing in the Federal Circuit Court of Australia but the judge again refused.

The family then compiled a submission for ministerial intervention but “received another shock” when they were given a bridging visa but with no work rights.

This was because the Department of Home Affairs declared their migration agent had lodged the submission several hours too late.

Pyjama Drama franchisees Eleanor Muder and Amanda Plumridge. Photo: Martin Kennealey

For more than 15 weeks the couple and Megan have not been allowed to work.

Mrs Plumridge said they had been “victims of legislation changes and delayed processing times”.

“In the four years we have lived here, we have been fighting a constant stressful battle which has had a detrimental affect on our wellbeing,” Mrs Plumridge said.

She said the “changes in goal posts” that have affected them are the abolishment of the self-sponsored 457 visa, Perth no longer being classified as regional, drama teacher being taken off most occupation lists and the age limit reduction to 45.

“In a nutshell, we are being chastised for our first year of trading because a migration officer speculated the company couldn’t sustain employment over a two-year period,” Mrs Plumridge said.

“That was in 2015 when we had been trading less than a year .

“We have been fighting this ever since, costing us and our company thousands and thousands of dollars in legal fees.”

She said not having work rights had made it “impossible to function”, with commitments to their business, franchisees, household expenses, school fees and migration costs.

“My children shouldn’t have to go through this and it is actually abusive,” she said.

“If the goal posts weren’t changed in legislation over the years, we wouldn’t be in this situation or would have chosen a different option.

“I would understand if we had committed a crime but we have been role model citizens – a family that people look up to and respect.

“People find it shocking to believe we are in this situation and it is difficult and upsetting to keep telling our story again and again.”

The family is still requesting ministerial intervention from Immigration, Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs Minister David Coleman.

A minister is allowed to do this if they think it is in the public interest to do so and where an individual’s situation involves unique or exceptional circumstances.

These include Mrs Plumridge being the master franchisor for Pyjama Drama having sold four franchises that need her support and training, Mr Plumridge being the primary carer for two clients with complex autistic needs, and the impact the process is having on the mental health of Megan and Rosie.

Franchisee Eleanor Mulder, who bought Pyjama Drama North West Perth in 2017, said if Mrs Plumridge was to be deported, it would have a “serious and detrimental effect” on her business.

“Though I can still work and grow my business, I will lack the local leadership, experience, vision and passion that Amanda offers by living here in Perth,” she said.

Moore MHR Ian Goodenough also met with the family when their case was first raised and his office has said they have been in consistent contact with them since.

His office said Mr Goodenough had also spoken directly with Minister Coleman to highlight the urgency of the situation.

The family has also created an online petition to get their case heard, which has more than 4100 signatures, and there is a GoFundMe page to help with living costs while they cannot work, with any additional funds to be donated to the Starlight Children’s Foundation.