Lulu Jemimah: An example of how immigration laws work against Australia’s ‘best interests’


Words || Angela Heathcote

Lulu Jemimah’s favourite saying is “regret nothing”. She doesn’t usually take notice of tacky quotes scribbled on the back of bathroom doors, but this particular mantra came to her on one of her most difficult days. The best part about the phrase is that you can’t credit it to anyone, but everyone has some kind of story attached to it. When Lulu thinks about those two words, she reflects on her time in Australia – the good and the bad, but surprisingly, mostly the good.

When I call Lulu just a few days before Christmas she is energetic. I can hear her hopping from bus to bus, and I can tell when it’s crowded because she hushes her voice and asks me to me wait a few minutes until she gets off. Lulu currently works full time but squeezes in a chat at 4:30pm, her knock off time. She’s had to take up cleaning work in an attempt to support herself in Australia. The lack of clarity around her current visa status has made it all the more difficult for Lulu to retain work in the field in which she is qualified. Just recently she attended a seven-day in-patient clinical trial just to offset some of the financial impact of legal consultations after being told she would have to leave the country in January. The decision, which was given in May this year, cost her a full time job as a sales and office coordinator after the contract was terminated following the uncertainty of her visa situation. She appealed the decision but was informed during a hearing with the Administrative Appeals Tribunal in early December that the decision could not be overruled. According to the Australian Immigration and Border Protection Department, Lulu has to return to her country of birth, Uganda, because her English is simply not satisfactory enough.

The shock ruling handed down from Department couldn’t have come at a worse time, given the producer’s creative work has just started to pick up following her graduation from Macquarie University. She undertook a Bachelor of Arts – Media undergraduate degree, focusing most of her studies on film and live storytelling, which she says was completely unexpected after having worked as a professional journalist in Uganda. During her time at Macquarie, Lulu was shortlisted for the Monash Undergraduate Prize for Creative Writing.

“When I was studying I was actually doing three jobs at the time. I was determined just to keep myself in school.”

After graduating and moving to the cultural hub of Melbourne, Lulu quickly got to work on one of her first productions. ‘The Nursery Web’ is a play about three couples at different stages of their relationships. One couple is just getting together, another is breaking up and the final one is a couple that love each other, but feel something is missing. But Lulu won’t have the chance to see her work take to stage. “I’m going to be leaving before the show even starts,” she admits.

Even though Lulu and I share common ups and downs from studying the same degree at Macquarie, stark differences between our experiences quickly rise to the surface. “When I was studying I was actually doing three jobs at the time, so I had no time to intern. I was determined just to keep myself in school.” This, contrasted against my own whining about maintaining just one job while studying, as well as the pressure to land worthwhile internships over a three year degree, inevitably leaves cracks in one’s self wallowing.

“After I graduated I said [to myself], ‘alright I’ve done this for three years, now it’s time for me to enjoy Australia’.” But the Department’s ruling means that Lulu is yet to be given that opportunity.

When applying for a 485 post-study visa, Immigration requests that an applicant must have completed an English test sponsored by the Department within 36 months from the date of application. Lulu was awarded her Bachelors degree earlier this year and, upon her completion, received an official letter from the university that seemingly confirmed her fulfillment of these requirements. It reads, “The attached letter communicates the completion of your qualification to a third party, for example the Department of Immigration and Border Protection or an employer. It also complies with the Department of Immigration and Border Protection requirement stating that the language of instruction is English”, signed by Deputy-Vice Chancellor, Deidre Anderson. Lulu attached this to her visa application but when the Immigration Department contacted her in April asking her to provide her English language test, which she then sat for. She sent these results without knowing that they fell outside the specified 36 months, as this limitation only recently became department policy.

“Lulu’s situation was even met with sympathy from the judge that presided over her case…”

From the very beginning of the debacle, Lulu has been fortunate to have friends rallying behind her. A petition calling upon Peter Dutton to give special consideration to her case has garnered over ten thousand signatures online.

“The signatures I have on my petition, and more than three-quarters from strangers, have made me feel so good about Australia. People have been contacting me saying, ‘we are behind you’, ‘we’re supporting you’ and ‘this is unfair.’” Lulu’s situation was even met with sympathy from the judge that presided over her case, who relented, “I’m really sorry this is happening to you. My hands are tied. There is nothing I can do.”

Sucked up into the rabbit hole that is the Immigration and Border Protection Department, Lulu is yet another example of how immigration laws have the potential to betray the ‘best interests’ of Australia. And by ‘best interests’, I refer to the economic interests of those currently in power, who lambast their opposition for the their lack of innovation, but who contradict themselves when they refuse to see the obvious benefits of allowing someone as accomplished as Lulu to remain in Australia. And while the bureaucracy may continue, Lulu’s creative work is now stifled by her predicament. It looks as if she’s preparing to take her acquired skills somewhere else after being accepted into both the University of Kent in Paris and the University of Glasgow to do a Masters in Creative Writing.

Immigration law in Australia is complex and changes so frequently that it continually disadvantages international students like Lulu. “A lot of students fall for this. I really hope that enough international students at Macquarie look at my situation. Even if I have to be the example, I just want to make sure it doesn’t happen to more people.”

To support Lulu and pressure Peter Dutton to overrule the Department of Immigration and Border Protection ruling and allow Lulu to be eligible for a 485 Post Study Visa, sign the petition HERE.