A Border charity worker who has lived in Australia for the best part of 20 years is facing deportation after an administrative error saw her denied a visa.
Stina Constantine, 30, a former Miss Wagga who works for Country Hope in Albury, is taking her fight to remain in Australia to the Federal Circuit Court. If she loses, she faces being sent back to Norway.
"I love this community. I love being a part of this city. It's my history and my present, and it's my home," she said.
"I don't want to leave."
Ms Constantine said all the issues started when her education institution made an error.
After finishing a Masters of Social Work on a student visa, she set about applying for a graduate visa.
Then, just after Ms Constantine was crowned Miss Wagga, the shocking news came that the visa had been denied.
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"The requirement was that I had to make an application for a graduate visa within six months of completing the course. For me, that meant February 28, 2018," she said.
"I made my application at the right time, but the education institution had said 'you completed it on January 11'. That's the crux of the issue.
"I had evidence showing that I was on placement on January 11, which means it was impossible for me to have completed my course."
Ms Constantine then embarked on a gruelling appeal process that included a hearing and the painstaking effort to gather evidence to show the mistake.
A blunder that she was not responsible for.
Then in October 2020, Ms Constantine was told she had 30 days to leave the country - in the middle of a pandemic.
"So, what happens to me," she remembers thinking at the time.
"Do I become an illegal person here?
"Am I expected to get a knock on the door and thrown into a detention centre? What happens to me? There were no answers for me.
"The awful part about it is that not only do they say 'you have made a mistake - and I haven't - but because you did you will have a cancellation on your record which will make it near-impossible to get a visa'."
Ms Constantine's next option was to appeal the ruling via the Federal Court Circuit. A route that would add even more of a financial toll after the thousands she has already spent.
"I thought, 'one do I have it in me to keep pushing, and two can I financially afford it'," she said.
"That's where my friend Kelly came in and said, 'you know the community would help you?'.
"She then started up a GoFundMe ... [and] I decided to keep fighting."
Ms Constantine works at Country Hope four days a week, travelling between Wagga and Albury to support the families of children who are battling life-threatening diseases.
She also works with families who are experiencing domestic violence with Relationships Australia.
"As a Christian, I also run a ministry and run talks and workshops," Ms Constantine said.
Ms Constantine's parents decided to raise their children in Australia due to the private, Catholic education system.
Her mother and father lived in Norway but had been brought up in Sri Lanka, fleeing just before the civil war broke out.
"The plan was I would finish high school and then resettle in Norway," Ms Constantine said.
"We did, but I felt pulled to come back. I got here and thought this is where I belong.
"For the last 10 years, I have been trying to make Australia my home."
Because Ms Constantine has made a submission to the Federal Circuit Court, she has received a bridging visa with permission to work.
Deputy Prime Minister and Riverina MP Michael McCormack said his staff and himself have been in consistent contact with Ms Constantine since her visa issue was raised with his office.
"She is supportive of what has been done and understanding of the process required," Mr McCormack said.
"Stina is a highly valued member of the Wagga community and does a power of work through several roles to enrich the lives of so many in the local community.
"I have both written to and met with the Immigration Minister to discuss Stina's issue and to advocate for her strong standing in the community, which is held in such high regard."
Mr McCormack added that it is important the process is allowed to run its course as it needs to.
A GoFundMe has been set up to help Ms Constantine cover the legal fees. She has also pledged that any surplus funds will be donated to Country Hope.
For more information, go to https://au.gofundme.com/f/help-stina-stay-in-australia.
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