International Students’ Graduation Letter Edited After Ex-Student Deported

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Words || Angus Dalton

The wording of a letter sent to international students upon completion of their studies has been changed after an ex-Macquarie student was forced to return to Uganda by the Immigration Department. Bachelor of Arts-Media graduate Lulu Jemimah was deported in late January after it was ruled that her English was not competent enough to satisfy the conditions of a 485 post-study visa, partly because of confusion arising from the letter. The visa allows international students to work in Australia after they graduate.

‘Australia is, on paper, generous with visas,’ Jemimah told Grapeshot. ‘It gives international students three years to study and three years explore what you’ve studied in this country, which is one of the things that made me want to choose here.

To be eligible for the visa, an applicant must complete an English test set by the Immigration Department within 36 months of submitting an application. Jemimah had passed the test with flying colours, but 39 months before her application was lodged. She could have re-taken the test within the correct timeframe, but matters were confused when a letter of completion sent to her by the university and signed by Deputy Vice Chancellor Deidre Anderson read:

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.’

When Jemimah realised the letter didn’t in fact satisfy the Department’s requirements, she completed the correct test, passed, and submitted it to the department. But a department official still ruled her English as unsatisfactory in a statement that, ironically, contains a grammatical error.

“To date, no evidence has been received to show that the applicant undertaken [sic] an English test within the 36 months before the visa application date. Therefore I am not satisfied that the applicant has competent English.”

Professor S Bruce Dowton, the university’s Vice Chancellor, wrote Jemimah a personal letter of support, and the university offered her free legal advice in regards to appealing the decision.

‘I regret that a letter from the University regarding the completion of your degree may have played a part in the confusion around your visa application,’ Dowton wrote. ‘I have asked the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Students and Registrar) to review such letters to ensure that this situation does not arise for other students in the future.’

The aforementioned section of the letter has been slightly reworded, and a clause inserted that reads:

‘Please note, this document is not to be used to demonstrate English language ability for the purpose of obtaining an Australian visa.’

Despite national support through a petition called ‘Let Lulu Stay’ that garnered over 10,000 petitions on change.org, Jemimah returned to Uganda in late January. She was in the midst of producing a play in Melbourne, working as a stand-up comic and exploring her talents as a writer and actor.