Help us keep 3 sea open and stay in Australia
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Hi Everyone. Here is the letter I have sent to the minister for the Home Affairs a few weeks ago. It explains a bit my story in Australia. My partner and I hope you will support our case
I am writing this letter to request a ministerial intervention in favour of my partner, Sandrine Mendy, and myself, Damien Pigot.
To support my request I will outline my history in Australia which will explain my
determination to live in Australia.
Then I will respond to the main reason why the visa was not granted and describe the circumstances that support my request for a ministerial intervention.
The last point is about our future in Australia and the plan to grow the business.
History in Australia
I was six years old , said my mother, when I first mentioned about going to Australia. The reasons are pretty much unknown to me but i guess it must have something to do with Crocodile Dundee and Jacque Cousteau.
The first time I recall talking about living in Australia was at 15 years of age for a school exchange program which I did try to enrol for the following 3 years, but had to forget this dream due to financial incapacity.
In October 2002, the year I passed my science certificate, and after many years of saving working holidays and week ends, I finally landed in Brisbane with a six month tourist visa.
Twenty one months later I was departing Sydney with a certificate IV in natural therapy, an English diploma as well as many skills gained by labouring around Australia but also grown as a Australian by understanding the values and social rituals of everyday Australians like Nino did in the classic “They're a Weird Mob" book.
In July 2004, I landed in Paris and, by then, I was known by family and friends as the 'Australian'. Settling in France was hard, the dream of Australia had grown bigger and I wanted to see more of it.
In 2006, I landed for the second time in Brisbane, having told my grand mother that the next time she would see me I would be Australian. After two years touring Australia with a working holiday visa, I inquired to the immigration department about the different options available to me to access permanent residency. I was led toward an onshore skilled migration scheme that allowed direct entry to a permanent residency status after enrolling in a trade course for two years.
In 2009 I have enrolled in a certificate IV in furniture making course on the Gold Coast.
During that period, due to a lack of woodwork availability, I started a traditional crepes stall at a local market. Interest was growing thanks to the fact that the traditional crepes are made of buckwheat flour which is a gluten free product, and being the only producer in a large area, I, also started growing interest in the market viability of this produce as the prospect of getting full time employment as a furniture worker dropped. Unfortunately, in 2010 due to a big drop in skilled trade demand, the skilled migrant program was cancelled and I was given an eighteen month temporary residency instead of the very much expected permanent residency.
2010 was also the year that I met, my now partner, Sandrine Mendy. I was catering for an event where she was working as a volunteer. Our relationship started in 2011. During the temporary residency visa time I was actively searching for a sponsorship availability within the area as I did not want to give up the work done with my catering business.
In 2012, after receiving money from an inheritance and seeing buckwheat grow in popularity, the thought of creating my business rooted in my head. Inquiring to a migration agent about the possibility of getting permanent residency owning a business, I was told that running a business in a regional area for two years leads to PR. Living In Tweed Heads for many years, the area is chosen. But to be able to run the business for two years we, Sandy and I, needed to extend our visa, so we decided then to enrol Sandrine in a course that would give us the necessary time to get our permanent status.
In November 2013 the shop “3 sea” opened its doors and slowly grew knowing that no certainty was yet to be achieved, no capital could be accessed and having to be patient to fully commit and grow the business fully. Almost two years later, we approached a migration agent to organise our visa; it was supposed to be a strong case ,even though the path seemed to have changed and I had to apply for a self sponsorship with a minimum wage to pay which was a condition that seemed hard to reach for my little business. Permanent residency would have to wait for the freedom to grow the business properly but the case was strong and I was confident as the migration agent was. We applied for a Regional Sponsorship Migration Scheme 187 with, myself nominated as a cafe manager. Time passed by and I could not achieve the condition asked for by this visa; it put a lot of stress on the business and on myself. After a brief depression, I learned to let go of bad emotions and felt reinvigorated. Knowing the condition would not be achieved, I appealed the decision to gain time and grow the business back to level ground.
Almost five years has passed since we have opened the business. Five years of uncertainty and five years of waiting to be able to grow the business properly and to achieve the many opportunities given by this land of plenty. Unfortunately but as expected the review by the AAT has been negative toward our residency. While we fully understand their decision, it has not stopped our determination to achieve my dream and my heart is still full of hope that you will consider the circumstances that favour our residency status.
Visa not granted
To my understanding, the RSMS 187 visa was not granted because of the financial capacity of the business not being able to pay the applicant( myself) a full time wage for a period of two years. I entirely agree with that fact, and therefore I fully understand the refusal of the visa.
However, I would like to point out, as I said in the previous paragraph, the fact that I was guided by a migration agent who was very confident about the process. Despite being worried about the self-sponsorship and the condition needed to achieve being granted the visa, I have followed the advise of the confident migration agent .
To me growing a business takes time, as anything in life. First we plant a seed, let it grow slowly while the roots are getting stronger; when the roots are strong we add some nutrient to help the growth and later we reap the reward of a blossoming business.
The condition of the visa as well as being in a low social economic area did not allow my new business to grow fast enough to reach the visa criteria. In fact, not being able to access any capital as well as having to pay myself a regular wage and also employing a few citizens has slowed the business growth.
Starting and growing a business in a “normal” situation is already a challenge on its own, but doing it with no certainty in residency time frame and having no access to any capital is quite an achievement. The fact that two migrants have been able to run a business and keep it afloat for up to five years in a tough time for retail business while having no access to business help should be rewarded, especially with the high number of small shops closing down since the Commonwealth Games.
I would like to add the fact that most small business owners that I know, do not pay themselves with high wages so they can keep the business running.
So due to the fact that I do not believe that I can reach the conditions demanded for the granting of the RSMS 187, I have decided not to appeal the AAT decision, and instead, decide to request a ministerial intervention.
Reason to consider the request for ministerial intervention
The circumstances chosen that would favour my request are from the Home Affairs webpage https://www.homeaffairs.gov.au/lega/lega/form/immi-faqs/what-are-unique-or-exceptionalcircumstances-what-type-of-documents-do-i-need-to-support-my-claims
• The length of time spend in Australia. I have spend over fourteen years in Australia since first landing in October 2002 while Sandrine has spend eight years since 2006.
• How much part of the Australian community have we become.Having been in
Australia for that long, we consider ourselves Australian, just with a bit of an
accent, which means that we believe we have been part of the local community,
but also the French community, the African community, the indigenous
community, the surfing community, the food community and many more that
make the Australian community. Here are some of the events we have been
involved with as well as some help we have given. We consider them much more
as being friendly and human as being part of a community.
• Part of the mud army during the Brisbane flood in 2010
• Giving accommodation to stranded people during the Murwillumbah flood in 2017
• Giving lifts to elderly people to their doctor appointment when their family was away.
• Helping and giving food to an ill customer.
• Giving food to a surf charity event
• Involvement in French culture intervention in local school
• Involvement in french culture intervention at a local radio station
• Part of every food event in the Tweed
• Face of the Taste the Tweed food festival in 2017
• Sponsor of the Gold Coast French festival
• Part sponsor of local school fair and exhibition
• Involvement in charity events for the local youth, as well as for an African charity
• Employed local youth, trained indigenous people for work experience
• Gave food to “the family centre' charity association
• Creating cross cultural events such as screening an Australia-France soccer game, organising the first “fete de la Musique” event in the Tweed and also many
African nights with food and dance.
• Many more events and actions have been done but most of them are reminded to me by customers. As I said; what we do is just who we are, and this is the main reason our business is unique.
• Providing economic, cultural and other benefit to Australia
Despite being a small business, we do provide an economic benefit to the area just by using local suppliers whenever it is possible. I do not mind to pay extra only to be sure of the provenance of a produce. I will always choose short circuit food whenever quality is not affected. We also employ one casual Australian staff and are looking for a second one also.
By being a French boy from Brittany and a French woman with parents from Africa,
the culture benefit is very big. We tend to show a part of France not really known to the world. In our shop, it is a showcase of the regional/provincial type of food on offer that is unique to us. For example, the staple food of my province, buckwheat, is a gluten free option that is gaining popularity in Australia. This plant has been grown in Australia for about 40 to 50 years mainly for the Japanese market while in Brittany it has been cultivated for thousands of years. My experience with this produce makes me a specialist in Australia and I have been in contact with Australian farmers to help improve the quality of their produce. “3 sea” is also a hub for the local French community and for the people who want to learn or practice their French too. This is why we have every Wednesday the club of French lovers coming to practice their French.
Future in Australia
The first business plan, before the business started, was to run the catering and cafe business for two years, then with the permanent residency granted, get access to capital to be able to develop the future of the business with the wholesale of the buckwheat goods. Unfortunately the visa was not granted, and the focus shifted to growing the business with a wholesale side of it to make it steady and grow slowly with cafe and catering jobs while also developing and working on the buckwheat goods.
We have now started the sale of buckwheat goods under the brand “recipe of Mam-Goz” and keep it small despite an increase in demand for gluten free produce. Keeping small, we are still supplying numbers of health food shops, restaurants and also cellars with our unique produce.
The reasons we believe in the possibility of growing the business are many. First it is a gluten, sugar and dairy free product which makes it part of the large market of healthy produce that keeps expanding yearly. The products are very unique and there is no competition in Australia.
Australian grown buckwheat is also expanding and will adapt very well in a climate that keeps getting harder. We have talked to farmers for years about improving the quality of the buckwheat; but to make farmers change their process, they would need a commitment from me such as buying a tonne of the produce, which is only fair from their part as I am just a French man so far. Buying a tonne of buckwheat in Australia costs roughly five to six thousand dollars. When you have no access to capital, it would be a huge commitment from my part knowing that it would take probably six month to use it all at the stage we are now, with the thought of a bridging visa which could stop in twenty eight days.
Getting our Permanent Residency or five year temporary visa would give access to time to commit with farmers as well as giving access to capital that would allow us to import the special machine that would increase the volume of produce being made which in time would grow the business and create full time work for locals.
We also have a plan in working more with local schools in creating a program to learn about taste and flavour.
Australians love to see people ‘having a go’ and this is what we have done. Now we would like to have a fair go too. In a tough year for the retail business it would be unfortunate to shut down a unique opportunity of growth in a low economic area due to a wrong migration pathway.
I am hoping you will reconsider our immigration situation and favor our request, not just for our benefit but for the benefit of the local community too. If needed I would gladly come to Canberra for a meeting so you could see that we are truly genuine in our migration process.
I am most grateful for the time you are spending over our situation.
owner of 3sea catering & Recipe of Mam-Goz buckwheat goods.
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