Australia holds off deporting migrant with autistic child after public outcry

The Australian government refused to reissue a work visa to a nurse from the Philippines because her 9-year-old son suffers from autism. After her petition online gathered over 100,000 signatures, the mother was issued a three- month visa.

Maria Sevilla took her son to Townsville, Australia in 2007 when he was only two and a half. Six months later the boy was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. But Maria didn’t despair – she carried on raising her child while studying at university.

After graduation she became a nurse and was recently promoted to a clinical position. Maria did everything to build a better life for her family, but it all came to nothing overnight.

Her visa was refused because her son doesn’t meet health criteria. That was the “sentence” of the Immigration Department reported on March 30. Maria Sevilla only had 28 days to appeal before deportation.

She created an online petition aimed at Immigration Minister Peter Dutton, which now contains more than 124,000 signatures. “Tyrone is not a burden, he is a joy. He’s non-verbal, but he still hears and still experiences the world. He is a happy child and can lighten the mood of a room with his presence. He doesn’t take any medication, and he attends a special school. The idea that he can’t contribute because of his condition is just wrong. People with autism can be excellent at a whole range of things, he just needs to be given a chance!” the mother wrote in her petition.

She also says the boy has no reliable relatives in the Philippines who can provide him with the necessary care.

She also emphasized that the only language Tyron knows is English. The boy is largely non-verbal but he works hard.

READ MORE: ‘Burden on Australia’: Immigrant family fights deportation over son’s autism

Tyrone’s friend, Ethan Egart, told ABC’s Q&A program last Monday: “He can read and ride a bike, but he has autism. I went to after-school care with this boy and he can’t speak, but he can use sign language to communicate with us. If he can get along with us and we can get along with him, why does he have to leave?”

Ms Sevilla also attached a video with her son writing: “Dear Mr Dutton! Can I stay in Australia please?” It wasn’t an attempt to play on feelings, but to prove the boy can write.

Maria’s supervisor at Townsville Hospital Sarah Wilkinson told that she is a great worker.

“She [Maria Sevilla] is an excellent nurse, very thorough, very patient-focused, and she takes leadership if there’s something that needs to be done. Even if Ms Sevilla needs to call on government resources to help care for Tyrone, her contribution to the community means she still deserves to stay in Australia.”

Immigration Minister Dutton reacted on Tuesday commenting to ABC Radio: “... on the details, as they are made known to me at the moment, I think this is a case where we would be able to help the family.”

Maria Sevilla was issued a bridging three-month visa while the federal government considers her deportation.

Australian legislation is aimed at preventing immigration that is a burden on Australian tax payers. It’s not the first time Australian authorities have regarded autistic children as a potential drain on the state. Enamul and Siuly Kabir’s application for permanent residency was turned down because their child was autistic. Both parents were academics and had PhDs. Only public pressure changed the situation: after their appeal and a petition with more than 70,000 signatures, they managed to reverse the Immigration Department’s decision.