The Katyals’ fervent plea to stay on in Australia

By Indira Laisram
Kayaan with his parents Priyanka and Varun

For Varun Katyal, gratitude and hurt feels almost identical right now. Gratitude that he has been able to live and work in Australia for 12 years and hurt that a beautiful life he has dreamed for his small family in the promised land now faces an uncertain future.

Varun arrived in Australia in 2009 and his wife Priyanka joined him in 2013. Their son Kayaan, who is six years old, was born premature with cerebral palsy. Just before the expiry of their 457 visa in 2019, the Katyals’ applied for permanent residency (PR) but the refusal letter came on February 9 this year.

It wasn’t surprising given that there are many rejection cases of visa applicants with disabled children for permanent residency on the basis that the projected cost of their care would exceed a certain estimated threshold. Australia’s immigration laws require that permanent visa applicants must undergo medical tests to show that they are “free from any disease or condition” that would be a “significant healthcare and community service cost to the Australian community”. Children are most affected by this policy, as costs are calculated over a lifetime.

Kayaan with his parents Priyanka and Varun

Kayaan’s disability is the only reason the family cannot stay, says Varun, citing the letter from the Department of Home Affairs. Varun says, “From the day Kayaan was born until now, he has been on bridging visa because of his medical conditions. He has not been added into our 457 visa, as would have been under normal circumstances, due to the same reason.”

The Katyals have appealed to the Tribunal court, while Kayaan’s case is with the Federal court. Their case has inadvertently thrown light on the plight of migrant families in similar predicament.

“Democracies have a long history of excluding people deemed undesirable as migrants. Those considered to have mental or physical disabilities are targeted most forcefully. Australia has done little to ameliorate restrictions on disability in immigration policy. This is despite a 2010 parliamentary inquiry into the issue that recommended several changes to loosen them,” notes Ruth Balint, Senior Lecturer in History, UNSW, in The Conversation.

According to media reports, the Department of Home Affairs has repeatedly insisted the law is not discriminatory and noted that people with disability are not automatically rejected. In the past, then Assistant Immigration Minister Alex Hawke had intervened to allow a 16-year-old Sumaya Bhuiyan with autism spectrum disorder, who had been ordered to leave Australia, to stay in the country.

While it is something the Katyals wish for, the formidable challenge right now for the family is one of uncertainty. “We are not sure when they are going to open the Tribunal court case for us, it might be open tomorrow or in a few months’ time or in a year’s time. We are able to stay as of now and work, but the problem is we can’t make any future decision, say, if we need something for our son such as a wheelchair or a bigger car. We are not fully confident to buy that because we don’t know when we have to leave.”

Varun with Kayaan

The stakes of their case seem profound. Varun cannot help thinking about the lamentable circumstances should he go back to India. He says Kayaan has been going to school here and visited India only once. The doctors here know his history, what exactly he needs in the future or what kind of treatment is best for him. “If we have to take him back to India, it is going to be really hard, we don’t even know how the hospital system works there, for instance. Obviously as parents we will do our best if we have to go back but the problem is his health is going to decline over there. Sometimes going back to India seems like slow poison.”

The other immediate worry for Varun is having to save up as much as he can to support his family n India should they go back. Moreover, after spending 12 years in Australia, he thinks it will be hard for him to get the right job.

Varun believes the celebral palsy is affecting Kayaan’s limbs as of now. “We don’t think it is affecting his brains, he is understanding a lot of things and learning a lot in school. He is also talking a lot.”

Baby Kayaan

Ever since the Katyals’ story came out in the media last month, support from all quarters has been forthcoming. “We received overwhelming response from the community, we have had over 118,000 signatures on our petition to urge the Immigration Minister to let our family stay in this country that is our home. More than 800 people have emailed to the minister to look at our case or reopen our case but we still have not received any reply,” he rues.

Recently, Jasvinder Sidhu, political activist and university lecturer, set up the Kayaan Katyal Support Group, roping in expertise to help the family. “We are trying to get a pro bono lawyer to help, we will lobby with the Indian community such as gurudwaras and other organisations to keep this story alive and offer some support,” says Sidhu, who is coordinating with the group to identify their needs and find out the gaps in the case.

But Varun says he does not really want to start a fund raiser. “I think we are living in a good country and God has given us enough money to survive and have a good life. There are a lot of people who need the money more, I can survive with the money I am making, he says, adding, “I doubt if anybody can do anything in this case. The support people have given me is really good, I am not sure what other kind of help I can expect from them.”

The stress is mounting. “The time and money I am spending on this case is enormous. I could have invested the same on my son—for his future and his life. Having a child with a disability is not a small job, we already have a lot on our late.”

A victim of circumstances beyond their control, let’s hope that the Katyals’ case is a catalyst that brings attention to the plight of immigrants like themselves. As one expert says, “There arguably remains considerable scope for Parliament to rethink how Australia’s migration system can deal with visa applicants who suffer from disabilities, and work toward a system that can accommodate both their dignity and Australia’s national interest.”

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