A grandmother and "local hero" who has been living in Australia for over 40 years, raised her family here and volunteers regularly with the Salvation Army, is facing deportation back to the UK despite no longer having any ties with the country.
Northern NSW resident Mary Ellis, 74, is beloved by her local community. She has an Australian son and two Aussie granddaughters, she volunteers for charities and helps feed the homeless in Tweed Heads, raising money for the Salvos.
Ellis, who has been in the country since the early 1980s, was even a nominee for the NSW Volunteer of the Year award in 2023. Yet, she's facing deportation for apparently never having been granted permanent residency — despite claims her partner at the time told her she had been.
NSW grandmother faces deportation after decades
Born in London, Ellis moved to Australia when she was just 31. She said her boyfriend back then advised her they'd both been given permanent visas and as such, she never left. Since then, Ellis said she's paid her taxes and never attracted so much as a speeding fine.
"[I have a] Driver's Licence, ID card, Medicare Card, Pension card. Everything Australians have," Mary told A Current Affair. "I thought well, I'm a permanent resident.
"You know, I carry on doing my daily — what I do every day. Nobody said anything."
Ellis first worked in hospitality when she arrived and then for the NSW government for decades.
"This is my home and I love Australia... I want to stay here," Ellis said through tears. "Just let me get Australian citizenship, please let me...that's what I want."
The grandmother's case has caught the attention of migration agent Stanley Schneider, who has offered his assistance pro bono. He said Home Affairs "suddenly" decided Ellis had to leave the country.
"They contacted Mary and asked her to go into the Brisbane office," he said. "And she went, and they told her that she shouldn't be in Australia."
"She's always paid her taxes.. she's never even had a speeding ticket," Schneider added, arguing that Ellis was an absorbed person under the Migration Act and should be allowed to stay. "She's never infringed anything. She's never offended anyone."
The Act requires a person to have been in Australia since April 2, 1984, and to not have left. But the Department of Home Affairs told Ellis that, according to their records, she did leave the country three times under different aliases. Ellis disputes those allegations.
"I love Australia. [I] didn't want to go anywhere else," she said.
Visa mix-up to blame for lack of permanent residency
The department claims the identity of her then boyfriend, whom she knew as "Martin Ellis", was actually "Trevor Warren" — and he is no longer alive. "I'd say it's wrong. I came with Martin Ellis, my partner at the time on a permanent visa," she said.
"I wasn't really with him for all that long, you know, not very long. And then we went our separate ways."
Ellis claims she has documents to prove she was in Australia the entire time. These include a job reference from a Tasmanian restaurant — that states she worked there from '83 to '86 — and a Medicare enrolment letter signed by the then federal health minister. According to Schneider, the documents wouldn't have been sent to Ellis had she not been in the country.
"Mary Ellis is a decent person. A person we should be absolutely thrilled to have in Australia," Schneider said. "And she's an Australian, Let's face it."
While the Department of Home Affairs does not comment on individual cases, a spokesperson told A Current Affair "people who do not have the right to remain in Australia are expected to depart."
"Non-citizens are expected to comply with requirements to advise the Department of incorrect information and give correct answers in response to questions that may arise in visa applications, passenger cards, or in responses to notices issued by the Department," the spokesperson said.
Do you have a story tip? Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.