HI FRIENDS! Today I’m writing to you from … Villawood Immigration Detention Centre*. Yep. I’m ringing in the New Year with a side of deportation from Australia.
I have been subjected to the most degrading, disgusting treatment over the last two days. I’m being transported around in handcuffs. My belongings have been searched, catalogued, and taken from me. I’m currently being held in what is essentially a prison. I’m banned from Australia for the next three years.
My crime? Having a valid tourist visa, and meeting all its conditions — except that Chad from immigration** decided he believed I intended to overstay my visa. George Orwell, where you at? I had NO IDEA that a visa could be revoked over ONE guy making a presumption about your “intentions”, but here we are.
Today I’m going to walk you through the last 48 hours of my life and show you the VERY ugly side of Australia – a side I didn’t know existed and which I’m now committed to exposing. Oh, and I also want my f*cking visa back. Here we go.
*I was being held at Villawood at the time I started this post. I’m now back in the USA post-deportation.
**Not his real name, but definitely the name he deserves.
NOTE: Although I am PISSED TF off and wanted to share my story to draw attention to a policy I feel is deeply unfair — this is not meant to minimize the injustices and struggles of less privileged immigrants in any way.
AND A 2023 UPDATE!!! My 3-year ban expired, I applied for a new visa, and… crickets 😂😂 Not even the decency to send a rejection. 8 months after applying, I’ve accepted that I am officially now perma banned from Australia due to one dumbass (Nicholas 87409, position 6026! 🖕) having a bad day. So I would just like to send a sincere fuck you to Australia. I hope you catch on fire again this summer. Get fucked🖕
Table of Contents
Part One: Jaleh Thinks She’s Going on Holiday
I landed in Sydney on December 29. Once I got to immigration, a woman came to ask me some preliminary questions. I think my passport was flagged because I was re-entering on a tourist visa after two working holiday visas, so I can understand the need for a quick assessment.
…It was not quick.
We went over my plans in Australia, where I was staying, my source of income, etc. Standard. The agent then requested to see my phone, which in my tired state I handed over without stopping to think if a seizure like that was warranted (after researching – yes, this is 100% legal in Australia under the Migration Act, and if you refuse you can be subjected to fines and even criminal prosecution).
While they were going through my phone, my bags were searched. Eventually after some more questions and more waiting, I thought I would be cleared for entry, but instead the officer started walking me into an interrogation room. I could see into the agents’ workspace, and I saw someone holding what appeared to be a bunch of printouts of my texts. A real oh f*ck moment.
I relaxed a bit after they came in to talk to me and I got to hear the contents of the messages, which were – in my opinion – enough to give an agent pause but easily explained.
Basically, they found a draft of a message that referenced a potential work arrangement, and one that referenced my plan to stay in Australia permanently, although I wasn’t sure on which visa yet.
Fortunately the work was via freelancer platform Upwork – meaning I am a US employee paid out by a US company. And it didn’t even matter in this case, because it was a remote role with no connection to Sydney, and the preliminary business meetings we were planning are completely legal under the terms of my tourist visa.
Also fortunately (I thought), my message clearly referenced that I was hoping to find a visa that would allow me to stay permanently. Note the word visa, Chad. Legal entry. Considering I still had nine months on my current visa – and a full year of travels slotted* – it wasn’t exactly urgent to get on it.
I thought it was obvious to anyone with basic reading comprehension skills that the message actually clearly proved I had no intention of staying illegally and was already exploring options for securing a different visa after I finished traveling.
Chad’s argument was basically that he could judge my current actions and intent based around a message clearly referring to a date at least nine months in the future, and potentially further down the line, and on a visa other than the one I was on currently. He also extrapolated, from a message explicitly stating my plan to obtain legal entry, that I planned to skirt immigration requirements. (??? lol)
And he also said that even if I was trying to stay legally, exploring visa options was “not in line with the intentions of a temporary entrant”. LOL OKAY. By this logic anyone applying for a new visa could have their existing one revoked since they’re plotting to stay in the country longer than their current visa allows, no? What a stupid, nonsensical argument.
I wanted a tourist visa this year because I had extensive traveling to do, both within and outside Australia. I wanted a permanent visa next year, because I wanted to start dialing back the travel and establish Australia as my home base (for the 8000th f*cking time, this means legally or not at all). These things are not mutually exclusive. My future plan to return to Australia did not magically negate my current plan to use my existing visa for the purpose it was granted, and under the conditions that it was granted to me.
*I realized later that the message Chad cited as proof of my plan to illegally stay in Australia permanently even specifically outlined my plan to leave the country in May*, lol. Brilliant mental gymnastics there, mate.
**My (multiple entry) visa also required me to exit before March 29, which I explained I was planning to do. I even have proof! Dated revision records from this page, showing that as far back as October a trip to Vietnam was in the works. I’m a travel blogger. The nature of my business is travel. Obviously I am going to .. travel. You f*cking idiot.
Part Two: Chad Cancels My Visa Despite Having No Evidence
Unfortunately for me, Chad disagreed. And after EIGHT HOURS of interrogation during which he was unable to catch me in a single inconsistency, he still chose to stick with his original theory about the message and cancel my visa anyway.
The best part of the whole situation is how lopsided the process is. Chad did not have any proof. Chad also was not even sure. He actually expressed doubt to me directly at one point in the conversation.
But the hilarious thing is that not only is Chad not legally required to have proof, I’m also not given any (reasonable) opportunity to prove him wrong. The law requires him to give me a grand total of a laughable 5 minutes to prepare a statement to him about why he shouldn’t cancel my visa.
And in those 5 minutes I’m not given any opportunity to, you know, get access to any evidence that might actually help corroborate everything I said, and I ALSO don’t get an opportunity to consult any legal representation. No one even tells me what the charges I’m trying to rebut are exactly. And keep in mind, I’m trying to come up with a coherent response after 40+ hours with no sleep, and 6+ hours clocked in this interrogation room already.
Suffice it to say, I don’t even remember wtf I said, I just remember how I felt – panicked, angry, and on the verge of a complete breakdown. I’m guessing it wasn’t my finest work. And it’s not like I had much chance anyway, since in the absence of actual evidence it was – as it had been for the entire f*cking interrogation – my word against Chad’s opinion.
So in the shocker of the century, after giving me a 5-minute opportunity to explain everything I’d already explained, Chad still decided to cancel my visa. Who would have thought.
Well- at the time, I actually was shocked at the news that he was honestly going to cancel my visa over pure speculation. Up till that point I was still convinced that a lot of what we were going through was a formality, and that surely he had to understand by now that I was telling the truth.
Unfortunately it seems I overestimated Chad. And that made the decision even more awful because I honestly… could not believe it as he was reading it out. Hand restraints. 3-year ban from Australia. By the time he told me I’d have to pay for my own flight back to San Francisco I was full-on sobbing.
Part Three: The Most Infuriating Part
Let’s briefly fast forward a little. We’re going to skip ahead to right now, back in the USA, where I’ve learned how f*cked up this system really is.
The BEST part of all of this is: it turns out that I don’t even have a legal opportunity to appeal Chad’s decision.
The tribunal that reviews immigration cases based on merit (aka the facts of the case), only hear cases where the individual was cleared for immigration. Since I was deported upon landing in Sydney, I never – as far as the law is concerned – entered Australia. And the only people who can review these cases are the judicial review, which do not review cases based on merit – they only consider if any “procedural errors” were committed.
And after consulting an accredited immigration lawyer (for a staggering fee, so once again f*ck you Chad), it turns out that no matter how wrong, illogical, and idiotic Chad’s decision was, he had complete authority to make it according to Australian immigration law. There is no legal burden of proof. Nothing he did qualifies as a “procedural error”.
The law is so subjective that even if the agent’s assessment was blatantly, provably wrong, no “procedural error” was made as long as they had a “suspicion”. They really can revoke your visa on “evidence” this thin.
So even if you can find conclusive evidence to prove that they totally f*cked up, there is absolutely nothing you can do.
Just to summarize for you all – your initial search, your interrogation, and the final determination about whether your visa is canceled are all left up to the very subjective “suspicion” of a SINGLE border agent, based on a single conversation with you, and no matter how wrong he might be, and no matter how much evidence you have to prove that he was incorrect, once he makes his determination, his word is law.
No hearing, no review, no process, just one guy with a pen. Incredible.
This was the country I wanted to build my life in, and to say I’m devastated would be a laughable understatement. I’m f*cking heartbroken. I’ve never been so frustrated and felt so helpless and so misunderstood. I honestly want to slap Chad in the face lol because he read me so, so wrong.
And that’s why I’m so upset – because I truly can’t believe that his opinion was all it took for this to happen to me*.
*Me, the LITERAL most visa-requirement-conscious woman on the planet, and probably the single least likely person in the entire country to breach any visa conditions out of fear of jeopardizing my future in Australia, following the fun and exciting year of travels I had planned. Lol. Once again, my life is a joke.
Part Four: What Happens After Your Visa Gets Cancelled
For those of you who are curious about the deportation process, let’s rewind back to the interrogation room.
After Chad revoked my visa, I sat in the interrogation room for another 3 hours crying lol. Eventually someone came in with a phone and said Qantas was on the line for me. The same airline that flew you into the country is legally obligated to fly you out – and to add insult to injury, you are expected to pay for this flight yourself.
In typical form for my life, I got deported on what was surely the worst imaginable day of the year – the Sunday before NYE. Flights are the most expensive. No offices are open – lawyers, embassies, consulates. No one who could help me. Nothing.
Qantas was unable to sort out a flight for me that day, so in the meantime, I’d be held in a detention center. I was actually almost relieved because at that point I hadn’t slept in over 40 hours and I just wanted to go to bed and pretend this was all some kind of f*cked up dream.
It is a legal requirement that you be restrained and escorted by security to the detention center, no matter the circumstances (lol). So after a bit more waiting, a bunch of personnel from a transport company arrived, including several GIANT burly “security looking” dudes. It was almost funny that these people – the same ones who transported like, violent criminals – were actually here to move me, a small ass girl who had been traveling on a valid visa.
They handcuffed me and off we went. I was offered the “thoughtful” option of covering my restraints with a jacket, which I declined. If you’re going to handcuff me then f*ck you I’m going to wear them PROMINENTLY so that everyone at the entire goddamn airport can see that this is how you treat visitors to your country.
I was held in a separate room for a while – not sure how long – before being packed up into a van, still in handcuffs. Then I was shipped off to the detention centre, which would be my new home for the foreseeable future.
Part Five: Villawood Immigration Detention Centre AKA Literal Prison
Once we got inside Villawood and through their security, my handcuffs were removed and I sat down in a waiting area. Intake was a slow, miserable process made slower by the fact that the woman doing my paperwork was new.
She walked me through their processes and started going through my things. Villawood only allows you to bring in a few items – you can pick out a few changes of clothes and that’s about it. I had to fight to bring toiletries, headphones, and my phone charger in.
They actually didn’t even officially allow me to bring the charger in – there was some discussion about whether the cord was “too long” but they were so disorganised I eventually decided to just throw it in my bag and see if anyone noticed (they did not). I would have lost my mind if my phone died so TY VILLAWOOD for being such a sloppy ass mess. I’d expect nothing less after the sh*tshow that was my visa cancellation. Glad to see Australia puts such care into these processes.
Once everyone’s paperwork was finished we were all handed a sack of bed sheets and were instructed to follow an officer up to our rooms.
As we walked the absurdity of my situation once again became clear to me. This place was LITERALLY a prison. I was being held in Australian prison lol. If I wasn’t so devastated I think I would have laughed.
The high fences were topped with barbed wire. Each section was gated off and could only be opened with key card. There were cameras and patrols everywhere. There was a f*cking like, prison-type rec yard in the middle. Like…. this was full on prison prison.
To my dismay, I was the only woman in the cluster of 10 rooms*. My door didn’t have a lock**. The little research I’d been able to do so far told me that most people held at Villawood were like, actual criminals, and I briefly hoped some f*cking psycho would attack me so that maybe the Australian government would one day recognise how bad they f*cked up putting me in here.
*Initially. More showed up later, fortunately.
**The staff locked us into the room at night, which I appreciated. However I DID later learn that I was lucky to be rooming with a woman, because other women at Villawood can and have been forced to sleep in a room with random men.
Anyway. They dropped me and my sack of bedsheets and my tiny sack of clothes and left. No one explained anything. When I would be leaving. What the f*ck to do. They just put me in a room and left me there. I made my bed, crawled into it, and just sobbed.
The next day was a blur. I tried to collect evidence on my phone, contact lawyers, and sleep as much as I could. Eventually someone came into my room with a phone – it was Qantas again, sorting out a flight. The Villawood staff told me to be ready to leave at 2, so I spent the rest of the afternoon trying to make some last-minute arrangements to see if there was anyone anywhere that could stop my deportation.
Part Six: Official Deportation AKA the Time I Got Walked Through an Airport in Handcuffs While Everyone Kept Insisting “You’re Not a Criminal”
Obviously, I did not stop my deportation, lol. I was transported out of Villawood in handcuffs and taken back to the airport, where I was held in a downstairs cell for a few hours while waiting for permission to board the aircraft.
By this point, having had a proper opportunity to collect evidence to prove my innocence, I now had conclusive proof that Chad was full of sh*t and everything I said in my interrogation was true. I was convinced that if I got an opportunity to speak with an immigration agent I’d be able to clear everything up.
So I insisted, and eventually an officer came in. Initially he was not friendly and not helpful. Probably because I was explaining my situation – not very calmly, lol. I was sobbing again, because – well… I was frustrated, panicked, and angry. I was waving paperwork in his face and ranting about the injustice of the situation.
Eventually he calmed me down. He explained that regardless of the situation, I would be leaving Australia today as I was no longer in possession of a visa. There was no legal pathway for me to remain in Australia or contest the decision at that point, so I would have to fight it from home. He then very kindly outlined some options for what I could do next, as I believe he recognised my sincerity and the fact that it was very likely his colleague had royally f*cked me over.
He left, and I cried a lot more as it finally sunk in that I was 100%, actually, for real, being deported today.
Eventually my new transport detail arrived, I was cuffed again, and it was time to board. Knowing I would be writing this post, I asked for a photo in my restraints. Security LAUGHED THEIR ASSES OFF. To the point that people were turning around and giving us weird looks because there was a chick being escorted through the airport in handcuffs, but everyone escorting her was cracking up. Silver lining. Apparently no one’s ever asked for a photo before, lol.
(I asked several times but they said no because they didn’t want to get in trouble. Sorry, guys. Maybe I’ll get one the next time I get deported)
We went through a special security screening and through a separate area of the airport. I waited directly next to the gate (not in the general boarding area) until the crew boarded, then my handcuffs were removed and I boarded the flight first.
Everyone on the plane was beyond kind, understanding, and attentive. Once again it was comforting to see that literally everybody – from immigration to security to flight attendants – aside from Chad thought my situation was f*cking insane.
Eventually we took off, I spent the full flight chugging Jameson and crying (lol), and landed back in San Francisco just about 72 hours after I departed San Francisco. Lol. And that gets us up to right about now.
Part Seven: What Happens Now
Chad made a very expensive mistake, and the best part is after completely destroying my plans for my life and draining my bank account he will face 0 repercussions. He gets to sign off, clock out for the day, and never think of it again. A regular day at the office for him was one of the worst days of my life and one I will never forget.
So the reason I’m writing this is because I’m beyond angry. This has been the most disgusting experience of my entire life, and I need to figure out how to stop it from happening to anyone else.
The process in which I was deported is absolutely f*cking insane. There is no burden of proof on the immigration officer. You do not get a hearing. You are not allowed to have another officer review your case. You are given an opportunity to defend yourself which is supposedly border patrol’s effort to be “fair” and “just”. This opportunity is given in severe distress in a literal interrogation room, with a legal mandate of 5 minutes to collect yourself and prepare. You are not given an opportunity to collect evidence of your own. You are not given an opportunity to consult a lawyer. EVERYTHING is left up to the ultimate authority of a single dude and his “suspicion” about you.
And not only is your visa revoked, you’re banned from the country for the next three years.
The fact that you can be deported from a country on the basis of one conversation with one immigration agent is SHOCKING. I actually cannot believe that this is legal in Australia. This should not be legal. This can’t be legal.
Anyway … yeah. This is the story of how I really loved a country and wanted to one day legally immigrate there after I finished traveling the world, and instead got thrown in prison, saddled with thousands of dollars in fees, and got a black mark which will remain on my passport for all of time lol — all because Chad From Immigration had a bad day. This is completely legal. And it can – and surely will – happen to other people.
Regardless of what happens next, I had to put this out into the world. This policy is unacceptable.
I’m mad as hell, and I want this situation rectified and my visa reinstated. But since I can’t get it back, I am going to be as loud and irritating as possible about this situation instead lol. The decision that should be taken with the UTMOST care is instead the most subjective and unfair. This system is absolutely sick, and these policies need to change.