“Words are not enough to explain how happy we are. Ecstatic. This has been an uphill climb for more than six years now.”
This is how Joey Jestingor described his reaction to finding out that he and his family – wife Rezy and children Yzabella, Gabriel and Patricia – had secured permanent residency thanks to a ministerial intervention after years of denied applications, setbacks and roadblocks.
Mr Jestingor and his family, who are originally from the Philippines, have lived in Queanbeyan since 2014.
He’s a senior nurse at the Canberra Hospital, while his wife is a full-time carer to their youngest daughter Patricia who has autism and congenital blindness. The elder children are working or undertaking tertiary studies after completing high school.
They are active in their local community, particularly through volunteering at their church.
It was through the church that the wheels were set in motion for the family to secure residency. Last June, Hope Christian Church Pastor Rolando Condat launched an online petition calling for the family to remain living in Australia.
Numerous setbacks over the years for various reasons – including Patricia’s medical condition, the inability of Mr Jestingor’s employer to continue to sponsor their applications and eventually, Mr Jestingor’s age – had left the family in a state of desperation by June last year.
When Mr Jestingor spoke to Region Media at the time, he said the prospect of returning to the Philippines after seven years in Australia was “heartbreaking”.
That’s because the Jestingors had sold everything when they left to bring their children to a country where they could grow up “in a safer and better environment”.
After almost seven years of not only paying to file applications for visas and permanent residency but also paying for the associated legal fees, Mr Jestingor said almost all of their family savings had been used up.
Thanks to an outpouring of community support and their story being shared through multiple media outlets, Pastor Condat’s initial petition garnered more than 25,000 signatures.
Mr Jestingor describes the petition as having “paved the way for the right people to find out about our situation, the right people who were willing and able to help”.
Some of those people to whom Mr Jestingor now extends his heartfelt thanks include Member for Eden-Monaro Kristy McBain and then Minister for Home Affairs Karen Andrews.
Mr Jestingor also thanks every single one of the 24,886 signatories to the change.org petition, as well as his family’s solicitors Nadine Elhage and Marina Oriehova Zhang from Brett Slater Solicitors who he says “have been with [the family] all through the journey”.
When Mr Jestingor did eventually get the news he’d been waiting for last Wednesday (9 February), things happened quickly, although he says he almost didn’t pick up the phone call all.
“I was driving in the car with my wife and eldest daughter and my phone kept on vibrating, but as I was driving, I didn’t pick up, and I get so many calls from spam numbers that I ignored them.
“But then when I picked up, it was my solicitor saying we would be granted permanent residency,” he said.
By the next day, the paperwork was signed. Mr Jestingor says it’s taken a while for the news to really sink in, but now the whole family is looking forward to being able to close this chapter and move on to the rest of their lives in Australia.
“We’ve been praying and hoping for so long that when it happens, you think to yourself, ‘is this really happening?’ It’s so surreal.”