Illegal in Perth: ‘Everyone told me not to come home’
A woman explains why she decided to stay on in Australia after her two-year visa expired
Perth at dusk, on Australia’s west coast. File photograph: Getty Images/iStockphoto
In 2011 I went to Australia to visit my brother, as a present from my parents for my 21st birthday. I was supposed to be there a month but ended up staying on because I loved the weather and lifestyle.
When my two-year visa was coming to an end, everything was going belly-up at home. Everyone was telling me not to come home, that there were no jobs.
My mother lost her job and my father was self-employed in construction, and work dried up for him too. I wanted to be able to help my parents out financially.
I was working two jobs in Perth, in a bar and a nursing home. I was working every hour I could. Why would I come back to no job in Ireland?
I did try to get a visa, to get sponsored to stay, but it didn’t work out. The agent I went to said the amount of Irish whose visas were running out was keeping him awake at night.
My housemate’s brother had been living there illegally for five years and he kept saying it would be fine. I was still able to travel freely within the country using my driving licence.
I was petrified for the first month. I was living with Irish friends and they would play pranks on me, knocking on my window pretending to be the police. From seeing shows like Banged up Abroad, I thought that was going to happen to me.
I came clean with my boss in the nursing home and they were fine with it, and paid me cash. But I never told my boss in the bar. I got away with it for 13 months.
I think someone dobbed me in. I was in the bar working one afternoon when three officers arrived to pick me up.
They wanted to bring me out the fire exit and into the van, but I had to call my boss. She was so upset when she arrived – she had no idea I was illegal.
I spent eight days in the detention centre (Perth Immigration detention centre beside the airport) before I was sent home. The conditions were absolutely appalling.
After the second night I refused to stay in the girls’ dorm because I didn’t feel safe, so I slept on a couch in the TV room for the remainder of my stay. It was basically like prison. They told me nothing.
Every day I asked when I was going home, but they said I had to wait until an officer came to speak to me and they would decide then if I was going home or not.
When I finally met him he said someone could pack a suitcase and bring it to the airport for me, but I wasn’t allowed it while in detention.
I got on the phone to a friend and she packed up all my things, I had to tell her what to dump, what to pass on to other people, what I wanted to bring home.
They paid for my flight. I offered them the money – they had my cards and I told them to pay for it from my account, but they told me that’s not the way it works.
I know I overstayed, but the reaction was completely over the top. I was still paying my taxes for the bar job, paid my rent and my bills, paid my car insurance, paid a lot of taxes on petrol. The way I was treated was horrendous.
For the first year back at home I was very unaccepting. When you haven’t chosen to do something and you are forced into it suddenly it is hard.
I had no money and had no work for the first while, until I got a minimum wage job. But now I’m doing good. I’m back at college and have readjusted.
I didn’t think I was doing anything that wrong, but then when it happened I realised it was actually so serious. I had no idea of the repercussions.
The four Irish people I was living with all came home within a few months. Their visas were running up and they were thinking of staying on but when they saw what happened to me they said no way. It is not worth the risk.
In conversation with Ciara Kenny. The interviewee has remained anonymous to protect her identity.