A NORTHBRIDGE restaurateur had to walk his bride down the aisle of Perth’s distinctly unromantic immigration detention centre a fortnight ago after she was detained for what the couple claims is a misunderstanding over her visa.
Jeremy Lay, who owns the Asian restaurant Buda Buda on Francis Street, met Sirilak Laksom during a trip to Thailand in 2017.
Love blossomed, and over the next two years Ms Laksom visited Australia to stay with her new beau, occasionally helping out at Buda Buda with orders and bookings. In January this year Mr Lay’s family accompanied him to Thailand to help the couple celebrate their engagement.
But when Ms Laksom tried to get back to Perth shortly after the party, she was stopped at the airport and interviewed by an Australian Border Force officer. He noted down that Ms Laksom claimed she’d worked at Buda Buda six days a week, which would be in contravention of her no-work visitor’s visa.
Ms Laksom was immediately sent to detention, but says she was misunderstood.
“While at my partner’s restaurant, I would eat, talk to my partner and talk casually with customers and occasionally take food orders or bookings if my partner was otherwise indisposed,” Ms Laksom said in a statutory declaration prepared for an appeal to immigration minister David Coleman.
“These interactions with customers were rare and certainly could not be considered work, even in the casual sense. Had I not been there, there was no requirement to replace me with a paid employee as my actions were so minimal and infrequent.
“I only attended the venue to spend time with my partner and develop our relationships as he works long hours, six days a week and we were intending to be married.”
Mr Lay said his bride did not drive and knew few people in Perth, so it was better to be at his restaurant than lonely at home.
Solicitor and migration agent Lily Chen, a current Perth city councillor, took on the couple’s case pro bono.
While the blue pin-up board in the immigration centre isn’t quite the background the couple were planning for a wedding photo, Ms Chen says the ceremony meant they could now apply for an offshore partner visa.
But without intervention from the minister, Ms Laksom will have to fly back to Bangkok and wait almost two years for the immigration department to process the paperwork. She’s also facing a three-year ban from getting another visitor’s visa, meaning the couple will have little opportunity to spend time together in the interim.
Ms Chen says she’s asked Mr Coleman to step in on compassionate grounds.
In a letter to the minister she cited the headline-making “au pair” case of 2015 when former immigration minister Peter Dutton stepped in to stop the deportation of a 27-year-old French woman suspected of working for AFL boss Gillon McLachlan.
At the time Mr Dutton claimed his intervention was a “discretionary and humanitarian act” in the “interests of Australia as a humane and generous society”.
Ms Chen says Mr Lay has become very depressed while worrying about his wife’s wellbeing and mental health in detention.
The minister’s office and Department of Home Affairs said they do not comment on “individual cases”.
by DAVID BELL