December 2, 2023

Immigration Marriage

Feel Good With Immigration

Sydney man forced to abandon family after migration agent failed to lodge visa application

A Sydney man is being forced to abandon his wife and three children and leave the country after his migration agent failed to properly lodge his partner visa application despite being paid thousands.

Bexley resident Mohamed Barghachoun moved from Lebanon to marry his long-term partner, Australian woman Jihan Merhi, in 2019.

After their wedding, Ms Merhi paid more than $1,500 to a migration agent to help her husband apply for a partner visa. 

The couple, who were both born deaf, say they found out in July the agent had never properly lodged the application, and was ignoring letters from the immigration department. 

Man in suit and woman in white dress holding hands and getting married
Mohamed Barghachoun married his long-term partner Jihan Merhi in 2019.(Supplied)

Despite the couple’s claim they were misled by their agent, Immigration Minister Andrew Giles’s office has told Mr Barghachoun his visa has expired, and he must leave Australia on Saturday.

He spoke to the ABC through an Auslan interpreter. 

“I’m just heartbroken. I’m not sleeping at night,” Mr Barghachoun said.

“How is [Jihan] going to look after the three kids on her own?” 

“I just don’t understand why.”

The department’s decision record, seen by the ABC, shows the couple provided satisfactory evidence of their relationship when they first applied for a partner visa in May 2019.

The document said officials then tried unsuccessfully to contact their migration agent Paul Jeffrey Smith six times between August 2019 and January 2022.

“To date there has been no further contact by you or your sponsor, nor have you provided the requested documentation,” the decision reads. 

“As you have not provided any evidence that you continue to be the spouse of an Australian citizen … I am not satisfied you meet the requirements.”

Man and woman sitting at table holding documents and children
Mohamed and Jihan look at the documents they tried to submit to immigration.(Isobel Roe)

A copy of the rejection letter, sent to Mr Smith in February, said Mr Barghachoun had 21 calendar days to appeal to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. 

But Mr Barghachoun said Mr Smith never told him about the rejection letter. 

Mr Barghachoun discovered his visa had expired when his Medicare card was cancelled with no warning. 

Ms Merhi said with the help of Auslan interpreters, she contacted the immigration department to find out the status of her husband’s partner visa.

She said the department told her they had no evidence of her ongoing marriage or children.

“Nothing had been organised in terms of the marriage certificate,” she said.

“We were very confused. The birth certificates for the children as well — nothing. There was no proof of anything.”

Communication difficult

Mr Barghachoun said communication with the department had been difficult because he cannot speak, and therefore cannot have phone conversations.

“They call me, I’ve got all these missed calls on my phone. And they get annoyed at me. We’re deaf.

“We’d be able to communicate with them if they booked an interpreter.”

Mr Barghachoun wrote to Immigration Minister Andrew Giles in September last year explaining his situation, and received a response a month later informing him the minister had no jurisdiction to intervene.

Man and woman embrace in bedroom
The couple embracing after packing his bag ready to leave the country.(Isobel Roe)

“With regard to the refusal of your visa application, under Australian migration law, it is not possible for the delegate to consider additional information, or to reconsider a visa application, once their decision has been finalised,” the letter read.

“If your migration agent is registered with the Office of the Migration Agents Registration Authority (OMARA), you may wish to lodge a complaint about their conduct.”

Mr Barghachoun’s only option now is to return to Lebanon, where he can reapply for a visa offshore — a process that can take months. 

Immigration Minister Andrew Giles’s office said they were considering the options.

Mr Smith’s registration with OMARA is understood to have lapsed in February last year.

When contacted by the ABC, Mr Smith declined to be interviewed.