A 20-year-old Sydney woman has issued a plea for Immigration Minister Andrew Giles to intervene in her case and allow her to stay in Australia.

Maria Duminica first came to Australia from her native Romania as a 10-year-old, with her mother and stepfather, who is an Australian citizen.

Duminica and her mother travelled to Sydney on tourist visas. A few months later, Maria’s mother married her stepfather, and applied for a partner visa with her daughter as a secondary applicant.

Maria Duminica has lived in Australia since she was 10 years old.
Maria Duminica has lived in Australia since she was 10 years old. (Supplied)

While the pair were waiting for the permanent partner visa to be approved, they were put on a series of temporary bridging visas.

Duminica told 9news.com.au she could still clearly remember arriving in Australia as a child.

“It was in the middle of summer and the first thing we did after we got to the airport was go to Bondi Beach,” Duminica said. 

“It was beautiful and everyone was just really happy. 

“I would walk down the street and people would smile at you, it was very nice.”

However, things at home were not so happy. As a teenager, Duminica’s relationship with her mother and stepfather deteriorated.

“I was dealing with that for years and years,” Duminica said.

“I remember when I was 13 or 14, I wanted to leave home already, but I was just a child and I wasn’t even sure if it was legal to leave.”

Duminica waited until she was 16 years old and then left home for good.

After an initial period of staying with friends, Duminica moved to temporary crisis accommodation, and was then given a place to live by a youth refuge service for young people who are homeless – Stepping Stone House at Dulwich Hill, in Sydney’s inner west.

Duminica continued studying at high school while living in the refuge, travelling more than an hour each way from Dulwich Hill to Rose Bay.

“I always grew up with the mentality that I have to finish school. It never really crossed my mind that I wouldn’t finish. I just thought, I’ve got to get it done,” she said.

It was during her HSC trial exams, and just a few weeks shy of her 18th birthday, that Duminica was given some frightening news that threw her whole future in Australia in doubt.

Maria Duminica said she feared being deported to Romania where she would likely be homeless.
Maria Duminica said she feared being deported to Romania where she would likely be homeless. (Supplied)

Duminica’s mother, who was still waiting on the approval of her partner visa some seven years later, had taken her daughter’s name off her application as a dependent.

This led to Duminica’s bridging visa being cancelled, a fact she was not aware of for a month.

“The department didn’t even notify me, it was my solicitor at the time, she did a visa check,” Duminica said.

“I was very scared,” Duminica said.

“I was kind of in shock as well because I didn’t know what steps I could take to fix that.”

With her bridging visa already cancelled, Duminica’s options were limited. She was not able to get a study visa as the application would need to be lodged offshore.

As a last resort, Duminica’s solicitor applied for a protection visa, which was refused in September 2022.

An attempt to appeal the decision at the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) was also unsuccessful.

However, in a rare decision, the tribunal member overseeing Duminica’s appeal decided it could meet the special circumstances required for a ministerial intervention, and referred the case to Giles’ office in June last year.

Duminica has been waiting ever since to hear if the minister will step in and grant her the right to stay in Australia permanently.

Living month-to-month on a bridging visa with the threat of being deported to Romania was exhausting, Duminica said.

“I really don’t feel like Romania is my home country,” she said.

“I don’t know anyone in Romania and I don’t know how to speak the language. I don’t have any connections there.

“If I do have to go back, I will be a young woman on the streets. I will be homeless.”

After graduating from high school with flying colours, Duminica was able to get a job working in hospitality at a Sydney hotel.

Last year, she moved out of Stepping Stone House’s refuge and is now living independently.

However, Duminica said her future still felt precarious, and while she had been given working rights with her current bridging visa, she did not have permission to study.

“There are things I can’t even plan for, like getting a car. If I spend the money on a car, and I get sent back, that’s money gone.

“I was looking at living with a friend but I’m scared to get a place and sign a six-month contract.”

Staff at Stepping Stone House have thrown their support behind Maria, starting an online petition calling on the minister to grant her a permanent visa, which has so far attracted almost 10,000 signatures.

Stepping Stone House CEO Jason Juretic said Duminica was a “genuinely outstanding” young woman who had managed to overcome extremely challenging circumstances.

Duminica’s efforts to finish her HSC during trying conditions was typical of her grit and determination, he said.

“Her school report shows that she got A’s and B’s in eight subjects. She also was on the honour roll of her college as a most outstanding student,” Juretic said.

“While she was doing that, she was working part time at two florists.” 

Juretic said it was clear the minister needed to intervene in Duminica’s case.

“Maria doesn’t have that support system in Romania. She doesn’t fluently speak the language,” he said.

“The reality is, if you talk to a lot of the refugee support organisations, they’ll say young women in Romania are very vulnerable to human trafficking. There is a genuine risk of that.” 

“We got a clear view that Andrew Giles needs to intervene and grant her permanent residency.” 

Duminica’s immigration lawyer, Sally Jackson from Crossing Borders, said her client’s case was relatively unique.

“What I want to bring to the attention of the minister is that her case is unusual,” Jackson said.

“When you’re a child, your whole family unit is what supports you, and she didn’t have that.” 

“While her case is unusual, I’m sure she’s probably not going to be the first person in this situation.”

A spokesperson for Giles said the minister’s office was aware and looking into Duminica’s case.

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