Australian man facing deportation receives outpouring of public support online
Entrepreneur Gustavus (Gus) Aird Murray was informed earlier this month that his appeal against having his green card revoked had failed and that he would have to leave the country by May 1.
But after a campaign that galvanised the support of over 11,000 Facebook users, the department of immigration made a u-turn last Friday, informing him that he would not be deported because of a pending working visa application – submitted nine months ago when his green card was initially annulled.
Murray is still without a green card or visa and consequently still out of work. In spite of the temporary reprieve, he still feels upset at his treatment.
“What frustrates me is that they haven’t acknowledged that there’s something wrong with the system,” Murray told The Copenhagen Post.
Murray moved to Denmark in late 2004 with his Danish girlfriend who he met in Australia. After initially receiving a 12-month working visa he quickly realised that despite having a master’s degree in agricultural economics and business from Canada and a bachelor’s in business from Australia, there were few jobs he was qualified for.
He decided to go back to university, taking a master’s degree in innovation and business development at Copenhagen Business School. Upon completion in 2007, he set up a business, Freeprint – a popular free printing service for students that made money by running job ads.
In 2009 Murray was forced to sell the company back to his investors.
“As soon as we got up and running, the financial crisis hit and the companies started laying off their staff, so they weren’t interested in hiring students,” Murray said. “Our revenue model disappeared within a few weeks.”
In July 2009 Murray applied for and was granted a starting allowance (starthjælp) from the City Council. The benefit amounted to several thousand kroner a month while he sought new employment.
Little did he know that by accepting the benefit he had violated his green card visa that was granted to him in March 2009 under the points system.
The following September the council informed him that after consulting with the Department of Immigration they had been made aware that he was not entitled to the benefit.
“No-one told me that I shouldn’t receive it at any time,” he said. “I only found out several months later that I wasn’t allowed to receive it.”
He quickly closed his claim and asked to pay back the money that he had received. But this proved difficult. Despite violating his green card conditions by accepting the benefit, according to the council he was technically entitled to the money and had done nothing wrong. As a result, the council had no system in place to account for Murray’ repayments.
Murray found himself trapped between two departments with conflicting rules. After closing his case, he received a payment slip to pay back some of the money he owed. He assumed that he would receive further payment slips and that his payments would be registered with the Department of Immigration.
“I didn’t hear anything back for several months so I assumed the case was closed. But in July 2010 I received a letter from the Department of Immigration notifying me to come into their offices with my passport. At that point I knew something was wrong.”
“They told me that my visa was being taken away,” Murray said. “The reason being that I hadn’t paid back the money. I responded that I had paid it back but they said: ‘But you haven’t told us that you’ve paid back the money’.”
Murray appealed the ministry’s decision and stepped up the pressure on the council to wrap up his case and allow him to repay the rest of the money he owed. It took several more months to arrange the repayment with the council and another month for the proof of payment to filter through to the Department of Immigration.
But on April 1 Murray received a letter from the Department of Immigration informing him his appeal had failed. Somehow the department had still not registered his total repayments. They also asserted that he was made aware by the council that his benefit application would affect his green card.
Murray denies this. “It seems ridiculous that I would have taken 20,000 kroner with the knowledge that it would impact my visa and status in Denmark. It seems counterintuitive and ridiculous,” he argues.
While Murray’s case roused massive support across both the Danish and international communities, the Liberal party’s immigration spokesperson Karsten Lauritzen, took a less than sympathetic stance when asked to comment.
“If you have committed a crime you can’t just apologise and expect not to get punished,” Lauritzen said to Politiken newspaper. “And when you have accepted benefits on a green card you can’t just say: ‘Oops, I’ll just pay the money back.’”
But Murray believes that he should not be punished for an innocent mistake. “That means that if you get advice and act on good faith on that advice then you are committing fraud.”
A source from one of Copenhagen’s relocation firms, who requested to remain anonymous, believes it was up to Murray to know his rights.
“It states clearly that you are not entitled to social benefits when you apply for a green card,” the source said. “It’s not hard to stay in the country and earn the minimum salary.”
And despite Murray’s own problems with the Department of Immigration, Bente Brobæk from Copenhagen Relocations believes they have become easier to work with over the years.
“In general, our clients say they find the system quite easy but it can be hard figuring it out on your own,” Brobæk told The Copenhagen Post. “It’s probably different when using a company because we keep up with the changes.”
If Murray’s pending visa application is rejected he may still be asked to leave by May 1. He does, however, have some options open to him, including applying for a new green card. But because of the problems encountered with his previous green card, there is a likelihood this too will be rejected.
This will come as a shock to many in the business community who have worked with Murray and believe he is an asset to Denmark. His campaign website, www.supportgus.dk, has been flooded with hundreds of letters of support.
It also features testimonials from many of the people he has worked with, such as Louise Petri, a management consultant at PA Consulting group, who said Gus “has successfully created innovative business in Denmark. He is the exact material that Denmark wants to attract. It is a privilege for all of us to have Murray in this country, but a shame that he has to fight for it.”
While Murray’s future is still uncertain, he believes his case has been important in highlighting problems with the Danish immigration system.
“I would like the politicians to start the debate about highly-skilled people that Denmark is losing out on. That’s what I want to draw attention to and say this has to stop. Denmark can’t just be self-sufficient.”