Work visas leave nurses with little security

Rowena Sunglao
Rowena Sunglao

A Filipina’s experience shows family stability is hard to ensure on time-limited entry.

Rowena Sunglao says her Philippines background naturally attunes her to care for the eldery, since ageing relatives are respected and even revered in her former country.

It’s a part of Philippines life she misses, Rowena says, and her present role at an age-care home is a satisfying one, except for the continuing visa insecurity experienced by her and her family and other Filipina nurses she knows.

Rowena came to Sydney in 2006 as a Philippines-registered nurse, recruited by another woman from the Philippines already established in a nursing career in Australia.

She has four children and wanted to give them the best education she could and, personally, sought ‘greener pastures’. She came in on a four-year 457 work visa, sponsored as a residential care officer by her present employer.

‘I felt when I came here it is going to be my second home,’ she says. ‘I love the environment, the air is the same air where I grew up, on a farm.

‘The people are warm, my colleagues have been very supportive and made me feel welcome. It’s not been difficult to adjust.

‘I’m fond of elderly people. In the Philippines we look after our parents. I look to my residents as my parents and seek emotional refuge every time I’m missing my own back home.’

Rowena, her children – a son aged 21, and three daughters aged 20, 16 and 15 – and her husband, a warehouse worker, live at Mount Druitt in Sydney’s west. She works in the inner west and travels by train there.

Life became uncertain as her work visa neared expiry and her employer, although initially expressing support, became doubtful due to immigration requirements at that time. The visa has expired, and she accepted a traditional path of assistance from fellow, settled immigrants, who are potential employers, offering sponsorship that sometimes can be exploitative. ‘On the last days of my 457 visa, those days I felt were the longest days of my life,’ she says.

Since there was, for a while, no guarantee the aged-care employer would sponsor her again, she accepted the assurance from another Filipina here that the woman would obtain an occupational trainee visa for her. It was lodged, and Rowena and her family obtained bridging visas. But the trainee visa was refused, and she sought advice from an immigration lawyer who suggested she apply for a tribunal review, as she did.

The costs of the occupational training and appeal applications have been in the thousands of dollars so far.

While her present employer has since agreed to sponsor and nominate her for an employer nomination scheme 856 visa, she says the rules require that, if a tribunal review decision, whatever it is, comes before her nomination approval, then she and her family have to return to the Philippines and apply for the visa on behalf of herself and her family.

Even if her nomination was approved first, her family would still have to apply offshore, Rowena says. These circumstances threaten disruption since two children are in school and the other two working. ‘Thinking of getting into this situation is really stressful for me and my family, we don’t know where to pick up the pieces,’ she says.

Rowena suggests the Immigration Department could consider taking families’ circumstances deeper into account with its offshore-application rules, if the law allows.