The Lim family is facing a struggle to stay in Australia after the residency application for their son was rejected on medical grounds. They are now seeking intervention from Home Affairs Minister Clare O'Neil to be allowed to stay permanently.
Hyunsin Lim and his wife Yoojin Yang hoped to provide a ‘safe and fulfilling' life for their two children in regional Australia.
The couple arrived in the country from Korea in 2013 with their first daughter, who was three months old.
Their second child, Seongjae, was born at Mater Mothers' Hospital in Brisbane in 2014.
However, the family’s future in Australia is now unclear as they must appeal to Home Affairs Minister Clare O'Neil to stay permanently.
This is because the family’s permanent residency application through the Regional Sponsored Migration Scheme (RSMS) was refused last year due to Seongjae's autism diagnosis.
Their appeal to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (ATT) has also been denied.
Hyunsin held beautiful memories of Australia having come down under on a working holiday visa in the early 2000s.
That experience was the main catalyst for Hyunsin and Yoojin’s decision to immigrate down under.
After first settling on the Gold Coast, they moved to Cairns to prepare for permanent settlement in Australia.
Hyunsin, who worked as a restaurant manager and was nominated as a skilled worker, then applied for a RSMS subclass 187 visa.
However, in July 2021, they learned their permanent RSMS visa applications had been rejected because Seongjae was assessed as not meeting the health requirement.
In Australia, visa applications can be denied on health grounds taking into account potential treatment costs incurred on the medical system.
The family appealed to the ATT in August 2021, but were notified that their case had been dismissed in July this year.
Affirming the earlier decision, the ATT found Seongjae’s moderate autism spectrum disorder would likely require long-term support, including special education and commonwealth disability support services.
In August, the family made a request for ministerial intervention under section 351 of the migration act 1958 to be allowed to stay permanently.
The family, whose visas expire soon, have applied for a Bridging Visa E(BVE), which lets them stay lawfully in Australia while awaiting the outcome of their request for ministerial intervention.
When Seongjae was two years old, Yoojin noticed her son was frequently exhibiting cold symptoms and running a high fever.
Yoojin says her son had what seemed like a cold for over four months starting from the end of 2016, during which his condition deteriorated.
After seeing an asthma specialist at Cairns Hospital, Seongjae was diagnosed with asthma and a cold.
Then after he turned three, Yoojin took Seongjae to see another doctor, who diagnosed him as having autism.
According to Yoojin, Seongjae's verbal intelligence, cognitive and learning abilities, as well as his social skills, consequently declined over the course of the following few years.
The Lim family is facing a struggle to stay in Australia after the residency application for their son was rejected on medical grounds. Credit: Supplied
‘Good developmental progress’
Alarmed by Seongjae’s declining speech and hearing, his parents took him to several hospitals.
In September 2018, doctors diagnosed him with middle ear dysfunction.
Seongjae had middle ear tube insertion surgery in December 2018 and his hearing returned.
“Seongjae couldn’t hear due to water filling in the middle of the ear. It was a simple surgery to remove the fluid, after which his language development increased at a very fast pace," Yoojin says.
Yoojin says that since the surgery Seongjae's speech and social development has improved markedly and next year he will be capable of taking regular classes with his friends.
"He spoke a few dozen words before, but he started saying sentences and a number of new words after the surgery," she says.
"As a mother, I dreamed of hearing my son say 'I love you'. Now I hear that frequently."
“However, because of his record of being autistic, my family’s permanent visa application was rejected, and we are forced to leave Australia, the only home Seongjae knows,” she says.
Seongjae’s paediatrician, Dr Tim Warnock, stated in his specialist report from May 2022 that the boy showed “good developmental progress”.
Autism Spectrum Australia (Aspect), Australia’s largest autism-specific service provider, defines autism as "a condition that affects how a person thinks, feels, interacts with others, and experiences their environment".
Every person with autism is different, which is why the condition is described as a ‘spectrum’.
Based on a 2015 survey, the Australian Bureau of Statistics estimated there were 164,000 people in Australia with autism, which represented an increase of 42.1 per cent from 2012.
What does the future hold?
Yoojin is worried about the impact deportation would have on her son's development.
"Seongjae was born in Australia, and English is his native language. The thought of going back to Korea would be difficult for Seungjae to understand and may cause him trauma at a young age,” she explains.
Edward Kim, a family friend from Cairns, echoes these concerns.
"If as a young child he has to go to Korea and live, he will have to learn an unfamiliar language all over again," he says.
"The social view and treatment of autistic children is very different there compared to in Australia, and I believe it will be traumatic for him."
Hoping to raise awareness of their situation, the Lim family has launched an online signature campaign.
As of writing, the petition has over 15,000 signatures.
In the accompanying text of the petition, the family questions the impact it could have on a seven-year-old child to hear that their medical condition will “result in a significant cost to the Australian community”.
“Imagine you are a parent reading the official statement that your son will be a significant burden for the Australian community and therefore your family is not allowed to stay,” they add.
They claim the economic burden their young child will cause on the health system is being “overestimated”, while the family's contribution to Australian society over the last 10 years has been "overlooked".
The petition points out that the RSMS visas the family had applied for are designed for skilled workers nominated by an employer in a regional or low population growth area of Australia.
“The family has already been helping and will continue helping to solve an important issue of economic development and population growth in regional Australia,” it reads.
Seongjae Lim Credit: Supplied (Lim Family)
When contacted by SBS Korean, a Department of Home Affairs spokesperson said that while they do not comment on individual cases, all non-citizens who wish to enter or remain in Australia must satisfy the requirements of the Migration Act 1958 (the Act) and Migration Regulations 1994.
"It is a visa holder’s responsibility to maintain a lawful immigration status while they remain in Australia," the spokesperson said.
Ministerial intervention only occurs in a relatively small number of cases with unique and exceptional circumstances, and where it is considered to be in the public interest to do so.
This is for the minister alone to determine.
The Lim family holds out hope they will be allowed to stay permanently in Australia.
"Please retract the decision based on the potential economic burden of the young kid. Please allow the family to continue making their socio-economic contribution to the Cairns community,” their petition reads.