'What they are doing to these people is just wrong'
A MUCH-LOVED French couple, who have lived in the Tweed for 15 years, are appealing to Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton to intervene and stop them being booted out of Australia.
Damien Pigot and Sandy Mendy, who have owned popular cafe 3 Sea in Tweed Heads South since 2012, have been told by immigration they have until October 1 before they must pack up their lives and head back to France.
Well known in the Tweed for his work in the emerging local dining industry, Mr Pigot was told in August he did not qualify for a new visa and was on a bridging visa which needed to be renewed every two weeks.
He has applied to The Department of Home Affairs for ministerial intervention but was advised he did not tick any of the boxes required to have his case heard.
To be considered for ministerial intervention, a person must be able to demonstrate how they can provide economic and cultural benefits to the community and how long they have lived in Australia.
"They state we don't meet any of the guidelines but we bring economic benefits just in the turnover of our restaurant and what we spend, for our ingredients we go to the local fisherman or the farmer down the road," Mr Pigot said.
"We also have cultural benefits including hosting African events, French events, football events, we bring something a bit different.
"For the criteria about living in Australia, we've been here for 15 years and are part of the community."
In 2008, Mr Pigot applied for permanent residency but 18 months into the two-year process was told the law had changed and he was no longer eligible.
"It was very unfair, that was unfair of them," Mr Pigot said.
"We did everything that was expected from us and we spent a lot of money. When you apply a rule, you should change it for new applicants, not for someone 18 months into the process."
Mr Pigot estimated he had spent at least $50,000 on various visa applications in the past 15 years since he arrived in Australia.
"I try not to think about the money as it is just depressing," he said.
Mark, who along with his wife is a regular customer of the couple's cafe, contacted the Tweed Daily News to express his disgust at the treatment of Mr Pigot and Ms Mundy.
"This is terrible," he said.
"They are lovely people who have become a real part of the Tweed community and have introduced an interesting degree of diversity of culture.
"What they are doing to these people is just wrong."
The future is looking grim for Mr Pigot and Ms Mendy, who met at Kirra in 2006.
"We're shutting the shop on September 29 and will apply for another two-week visa extension," Mr Pigot said.
"If we can get that we're going to have to sell what we can from the shop, organise where we will live, put our stuff in a container and send it back to France.
"We have a cat as well which we don't want to leave but it's not fair to make it travel either.
"It's sad, we're trying to comply and do the best we can. After 15 years in the country, five years in a business, you don't expect someone to say you have two weeks to leave. It doesn't feel real.
"This is where our life is, it's where our projects are for the future. We'll bounce back, we always do, but I've been working here that long I feel pretty much Australian.
"We chose to be here, some people are lucky enough to be born here, I wasn't but I worked hard to come here."
Mr Pigot said he was reaching out to the media in a last-ditch attempt to have his case heard, while enjoying every last minute in Australia he had.
"Sandy has just started a short course she has always wanted to do and I've been closing the store at 3pm instead of 5pm as we don't know how long we have to enjoy this place. We don't know when it will be taken away from us," he said.
"It's all about living in the moment."
Mr Pigot's case comes after controversy surrounding Home Affairs minister Peter Dutton, who intervened in three cases of au pairs who were detained at the Australian border.
In one case, Mr Dutton intervened to allow French au pair Alexandra Duewel entry into Australia after an appeal was made on her behalf by AFL boss Gillon McLachlan in 2015.
About nine hours after the request, Mr Dutton granted her a visa, arguing that it was in the "public interest".
A Senate Inquiry into Mr Dutton's involvement which concluded last night found he "misled" Parliament over his involvement into the au pairs visa intervention saga.
A representative for Richmond MP Justine Elliot, who represents the Tweed region, said they could not comment on the case.
A representative for the Immigration Department said they could not comment on the case for privacy reasons.