A PAKISTANI-born Brisbane gay man who was facing deportation on January 8 after his application for a partnership visa was rejected, despite being in a committed four-year relationship, has had his deportation put “on hold”.
Ali Choudhry was looking at a potential deportation to a country of which he has no memory and where he could not read or write the local language, as he was raised by his family in the USA.
Since his visa plight emerged a few weeks ago, marriage equality, same-sex relationship recognition, human rights, and the federal government’s handling of immigration issues have all taken centre stage.
Of most concern to the 26-year-old photographer – besides being separated from partner Matthew Hynd – was being forced to go to a country where being gay, or engaging in gay sex, could result in a 10-year jail sentence or life imprisonment.
Despite this, homosexuality is at best tolerated in Pakistan but in areas where it is religiously extremist, it could be punished with capital punishment – namely whippings – and even death by stoning.
“[People] could say to just not wear a rainbow flag and prance down the street, which I wasn’t planning on doing anyway. But at the same time, I’m not exactly uber-masculine either,” Choudhry told the Star Observer.
“To have to watch everything I do – things I don’t even think about – would be very difficult.”
The deportation threat came in late 2013 when a partnership visa application was rejected by the Department of Immigration on the grounds that his relationship with Hynd, a Brisbane neuroscientist, was not considered legitimate, referring to a sub clause that stated they did not consider couple to be in a long-standing relationship that was defined as at least two years.
The couple met online while Choudhry was studying zoology at the University of Queensland and Hynd was working for the New York Department of Health.
When Hynd returned to Australia for a holiday in 2010, they met in person. Hynd then quit his New York job and returned to Brisbane in December that year.
After losing their homes during the 2011 Queensland floods, in July 2011 they moved in together.
They said that despite being in a relationship for four years come February, living and filing taxes together, having joint bank accounts and wills and even entering into a civil union in 2012 before it was removed by the Queensland Government – their relationship legitimacy was rejected.
A spokesperson for Immigration Minister Scott Morrison told the Star Observer that “the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, on considering Mr Choudhry’s claims, did not consider that they were compelling.”
Choudhry and Hynd were concerned their civil union may have been ignored by the immigration official who handled their case.
“Despite submitting legal evidence of our civil union, unfortunately our immigration official has not taken that into account based on the written evidence that we have received back in being denied our partnership visa.” Hynd said.
Before the 2011 floods, Choudhry had applied to extend his student visa. However, unknown to him, follow-up paperwork requesting immigration matters such as health checks was sent to his flood-destroyed home.
Choudhry was later requested to meet with immigration department officers to make sure he was still in the country – despite the fact he had been filing tax returns, studying and working – and was then informed that his visa had been denied because he did not lodge the missing paperwork.
“Our next course of action was to file an application for a partnership visa,” Choudhry said.
“Fast forward two and a half years and we were still waiting on a decision, even though partnership visas typically only take eight to 10 months to be approved. Unfortunately our application was rejected, and our most recent appeal directly to the immigration minister was denied.”
An issue that the couple believed could have worked against the visa was that Hynd had not technically been living back in the country for a year before the application was made. However, Choudhry believed that the department never considered other circumstances – such as the floods – along with evidence they provided to prove their relationship legitimacy.
“We believe that our case manager has not performed their duty and looked at all the additional evidence that we have supplied, such as our civil union, along with the fact of having lived together in Australia for three years together,” Choudhry said.
“It’s the lack of a government official showing any empathy for the situation and using common sense to understand that we are in a long-term committed relationship.”
The department stated that their decision to deny Choudhry’s visa had nothing to do with his sexuality.
However, this was rejected by South Australian Greens Senator Sarah Hanson- Young, who said: “Minister Morrison is knowingly returning an openly-gay man to country where homosexuality is a punishable offence. This is quite simply dangerous and irresponsible.”
Meanwhile, Australian Marriage Equality Deputy National Director Ivan Hinton said: “It illustrates the important human rights protections and recognition that comes with marriage and this is currently denied to loving same-sex couples in Australia.”
Choudhry agreed: “I also believe that when, not if, marriage equality occurs that it should only be entered into for the right reasons. Rorting the system with a fraudulent, sham marriage… isn’t a right reason.”
The couple launched a crowd- sourcing campaign to raise the funds required to file an appeal to the Migration Review Tribunal (MRT), and it took two days to reach their goal.
“The feedback and support has been amazing… People have sent us messages of support as well as key contacts such as with the UNHCR,” Choudhry said.
He and Hynd were also heartened by a petition created by Paul Toner (pictured below) – whom they’ve never met – which at the time of going to print, attracted over 130,000 signatures within four days on the GetUp!- backed Community Run website.
According to Getup!, it became the website’s biggest petition, bolstered by former Star Trek star George Takei posting the link to his five million-plus Facebook fans.
On the same day, the couple had a meeting with the Immigration Department where they said they were informed that Choudhry’s deportation had been put “on hold”.
“We have been back to the [department] twice to see if our case has merit… and each time we’ve received a tentative yes — but not a definite yes,” Choudhry said.
Hynd added: “We asked the case officer… for a print-out of the records on official letterhead which he flatly refused to do.
“Unfortunately, we have no proof of [Tuesday’s] meeting, the decision of the visa being on hold and we’re 100 per cent sure that ‘going on the word of a [department] agent’ wouldn’t be legal proof in court. For a government department that loves paperwork we’re confused why we can’t get something in writing.”
The couple now await the official outcome of their appeal to the MRT.
The Star Observer requested on numerous occasions for further clarification or information from the Immigration Minister, as well as comments from Shadow Immigration Minister Richard Marles, but they were never provided.