Cowra family in last minute immigration reprieve

A family of Taiwanese origin whose children attend the local Catholic school in Cowra, central NSW, have won a last minute review of an Immigration Department decision ordering the family to leave the country because their small organic farm is not profitable enough.

The Sydney Morning Herald reports that John and Su-Mei Lai and their children Ray, 16, Howard, 15, and Angel, 9, who have lived in Australia for nine years, were to have been arrested and detained if they had not left Australia by last Friday.

Mr Lai arrived in Australia in 1998 on a long-stay business visa that required him to employ people and use technology.

But the Migration Review Tribunal in December upheld an Immigration Department decision that gave the family two weeks to leave the country because their small organic farm near Cowra was not profitable and did not meet business immigration criteria.

However, after a flood of support for the family from Cowra locals, the Immigration Department issuing a bridging visa on Friday so that Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone could review their case.

Liberal Senator Bill Heffernan, who also took up the family's fight, said he would meet Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Immigration Andrew Robb "for a yarn".

He told the Herald he was aware of the danger of setting a precedent by letting the family stay, but they had made a big contribution in the time they had been in Australia and had been well accepted by the people at Cowra.

"The good news is they are not about to be bundled up and carted away in a paddy wagon," Senator Heffernan said.

Mr Lai told the Herald that he was very happy with the decision and wanted to thank everyone for their support.

He hoped the review of his family's bid to stay in Australia would be successful.

The Lais were on a long stay temporary business entry visa under an Immigration Department scheme designed to attract migrants to country centres.

Mr Lai opened a vegetarian restaurant in Cowra in 2000 but had to close it after two years. Later he bought a property outside the town, where he said he spent more than $85,000 sinking a bore, installing irrigation, buying a tractor, a delivery van and other machinery, building a roadside store and growing organic tomatoes.

Cowra Council development manager Graham Apthorpe had previously said he hoped Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone would overturn the decision.

He said that Mr Lai owns his own block of land and his market garden business would be on track if not for the drought.

The principal of St Raphael's Catholic school, Michael Gallagher, earlier told the Herald that the Lai family was the "salt of the earth".

"Mr Lai and his wife are supportive of the parents' and friends' association and are always at parent-teacher discussions because they are so conscientious about everything they do," he said.

Howard is sports captain of St Raphael's School and plays in a Cowra representative cricket team. Ray has just completed the year 10 School Certificate and was to attend Cowra High School next year.

"Angel is in year 3 and she is an angel by nature; a lovely little girl who was born in Australia," Mr Gallagher said.

Tomato growers win review of decision to kick them out (Sydney Morning Herald, 5/1/07)
Farmer deported because of drought (Sun-Herald, 25/12/06)
Not successful enough for the lucky country (Sydney Morning Herald, 23/12/06)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Catholic Education Office Bathurst
Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs

Citizenship test harsh, exploitative (CathNews, 14/12/06)
Govt grants Sofia's final Aussie wish (CathNews, 13/11/06)
Nun says Baxter detainees in Queensland for psychiatric care (CathNews, 5/7/06)

8 Jan 2007

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