A 20yo uni student with visual impairment is not a burden!
Santiago Velasquez is a 20-year-old Engineering student, studying at QUT in Brisbane. He was born in Armenia, in the foothills of the Andes, Colombia, where there is a population of around 265,000 people.
Santiago ('Santi' to his friends) was born with Glaucoma , Sclerocornea and Microphthalmia, meaning he has no vision in his left eye and approximately 3 per cent vision in his right eye. His parents knew the resources and opportunities for the visually impaired in Colombia were greatly limited. So in 2009 they migrated to Australia with the hope of becoming citizens and actively contributing to our flourishing multicultural community.
Santi's dedication to his studies and his community soon shone through. He quickly mastered English, was elected school Vice Captain in 2014, and participated in a number of gruelling events for charity, including completing the Kokoda Challenge in both 2013 and 2014 (48km and 96km respectively), and completing the 55km Oxfam Trail Walker.
Santi's academic prowess has seen him become one of Queensland's brightest young minds. In 2013, 2014, and 2015 he participated in the Optiminds Creative Sustainabilty Challenge (Science and Engineering Division) at regional, state, and national level. He was also selected to participate in the Google and Griffith Robotics Competition, where his team of five built an autonomous robot named 'Bob'.
A recent GoFundMe campaign helped Santi raise the funds necessary to begin attending university as a permanent resident and international student. His intention was that as soon as his family's application for citizenwhip was approved, the money that remained from donations would be donated to organisations such as Guide Dogs Australia and Vision Australia. On approval of citizenship, Santi was happy to incur all costs associated with his studies.
Application for permanent residency
Since June 2011, Santi's family has been going through the application process for permanent residency. In 2012 their application process came to an abrupt halt when Santiago was informed he did not meet the relevant health criteria - the Government cited the 'burden to society' and cost to the community (of approximately $490,000) as a reason to deny their application. His family was distraught, and immediately applied to the Department of Immigration to waive the relevant criteria and allow the family to continue the process for permanent residency.
In 2013 Santi was allowed to continue the process, but despite contacting the Department he did not hear from them again until the end of 2014.
In 2015 Santi's father, Cesar, was contacted again and told he had provided misleading or false information in the application process. Following a review by the Immigration Review Tribunal, it was found the information the family had provided was actually accurate. Again, the family were allowed to continue their application process.
In January 2016 the family was requested, again, to supply a medical report to the Department. Once again, the Department cited Santi's medical condition to be beyond the requirements of the community. The Department stated this time that Santi was going cost the Australian taxpayer almost $1.7 million, despite previously saying the cost would only amount to $490,000.
The Department has now given the entire family until 5 May to once again provide reasonable explanation as to why Santi and his family will be of enough value to the Australian community to outweigh whatever cost he may incur over his lifetime. This despite the fact his family has actively contributed to the economy and the community since moving to Australia, and with an Engineering degree, Santi's future potential contributions - economically and socially - would far outweigh any medical costs.
In addition, with permanent residency Santi's father would be able to work again as an engineer, his previous profession in Colombia. Since arriving in Australia seven years ago on a student visa, Santi's father Cesar has been unable to work in his profession. As a result, Cesar and his wife worked as cleaners for a number of years, and most recently Cesar began work as a painter.
We need you to help Santi and his family!
If Santi and his family are forced to return to Colombia, Santi faces the very real prospect of not being able to complete his studies, or have the opportunities afforded to him that visually impaired people enjoy in Australia.
We risk losing one of the brightest young minds in the country, and a family dedicated to contributing their community and the economy.
Tell the Department that Santi's visual impairment is not a burden to our country - that what he is contributing - and will contribute - to our country is far more important!
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