Awtar Singh last held a valid visa to stay in Australia in 2001. Since then he has applied for numerous visas all of which were refused but Mr Singh has continued to remain in Australia.

The 59-year-old Indian national came to Australia on 30th November 2000 on a visitor visa. After his visa expired in 2001, Mr Singh did not depart Australia.

His appeal against a visa refusal was recently heard by the Federal Circuit Court in Sydney. Mr Singh’s last visa application was for a medical treatment visa in December 2017 on the basis that he was suffering from anxiety and hypertension.

The Department of Home Affairs refused to grant the visa, finding that Mr Singh did not “genuinely” intend to stay in Australia temporarily for the purpose for which the visa is granted.

He challenged the visa refusal in the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. However, the Tribunal refused his appeal on the basis that the appeal was filed outside the appeal period of 21 days.

In his challenge to the Tribunal’s decision in the Federal Circuit Court, Mr Singh said that the Tribunal decided his application without giving him an opportunity to present his arguments. However, the Court affirmed the Tribunal’s decision to dismiss Mr Singh’s appeal on the basis that it was submitted after the appeal period had lapsed.

The court also ordered Mr Singh to pay  $3,667 in the legal costs of the Department of Home Affairs.

Migration agent Ranbir Singh says it’s not uncommon for people to remain in Australia without any substantive visa.

“I have had clients who had been living in Australia for ten, twelve, even thirteen years without a substantive, some even as unlawful non-citizens. It’s not entirely uncommon, but you can imagine that life isn’t easy in that situation,” he said.

However, there are thousands like Mr Singh who are overstaying their visas.

SBS News reported last year that over 6,000 people overstay their visa between 15 and 20 years. In 2017, with over 10,000 overstayers, Malaysians topped the list of nationalities that overstayed their visas followed by China and the US.

While some people continue to remain in Australia after the expiry of their visas without informing the authorities and become ‘unlawful non-citizens’, others who seek resolution of their visa status are granted Bridging Visa E that allows them to stay in the community. According to the Department of Home Affairs, a “risk-based” approach is taken to managing such cases and where possible, non-citizens are managed in the community.

Those who cannot be managed in the community (upon granting a bridging visa E), are held in immigration detention. According to the Home Affairs figures, over 28,000 people were on bridging visa E at the end of last year, that was 94 per cent of the people whose visa status was being managed and the remaining six per cent were held in immigration detention.

Ranbir Singh from Lakshay Migration says he has come across people who remained illegally in the community for well over a decade.

“I know of a person who stayed in Australia for thirteen years before he finally approached the immigration authorities and decided to go back to India,” he said.

Mr Singh says such people encounter many difficulties and often live life ‘underground’.

“They are constantly looking over their shoulder. They won’t have any employment. If they find work, they will be paid cash-in-hand and you can imagine the kind of exploitation they face. Needless to say, they won’t have any social security etc here,” he told SBS Punjabi. “It’s best to take the legal route.”

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