A Singaporean underwater photographer who takes tourists diving at the Great Barrier Reef has been granted a work visa on appeal after an Australian tribunal found that his economic contribution to the community outweighed the fact that he had spent six months in jail.
Queensland-based Calypso Productions, the company that hired Singaporean Lim Yoong Xiang, 32, quantified the revenue loss from Mr Lim's absence from lack of a work visa as being A$500 (S$518) a day and claimed it would take a year to find a replacement with his unique skills.
But the office of Australia's Minister for Immigration and Border Protection objected to issuing the permanent work visa, indicating that Mr Lim did not qualify under the character test, as he had served two six-month jail terms concurrently in Singapore in June 2012 for breach of probation orders in relation to cannabis consumption.
Mr Lim had been placed on three years' probation in 2010 for shoplifting, drug possession and drug consumption. His sentence was equal to 12 months under Australian rules, which disqualified him for a visa under the character test.
At issue was whether his past criminal convictions here took precedence over his economic contributions to his Queensland employer.
Mr Lim filed an appeal with the Administrative Appeals Tribunal of Australia, with a hearing held in Brisbane. In judgment grounds released last week, it set aside the previous decision and ruled the discretion to refuse Mr Lim a visa on character grounds should not be invoked.
Calypso, which hired Mr Lim in 2014 as its imaging information and marketing manager, specialises in underwater photography and operates in Cairns, which is Australia's tourist gateway to the Great Barrier Reef. Mr Lim is a graduate and certified divemaster whose job includes underwater photography, sales and training.
Cairns-based Calypso has an annual revenue of A$1.4 million and more than 60 per cent of its clients are Chinese tourists for whom Mr Lim could facilitate a "positive experience", according to the company's managing director Lisa Conyers.
Mr Lim argued that the seriousness of his conduct was "very low by Australian standards", pointing to the different approaches to cannabis use in Singapore and Australia.
He added that he would have been unlikely to face a jail term for the same offences in Australia.
But the minister's representative stressed that drug-related offences are serious on account of the harm and costs to health and law enforcement resources, and underlined the duty to protect the community.
Tribunal deputy president P. McDermott said such a consideration "weighs slightly against" Mr Lim, but although " serious", the offending did not involve violent or sexual crimes. He gave Mr Lim credit for his "candour " at the hearing and said that he "now has a certificate of clearance from the Singapore Police which was issued under local spent convictions legislation".
He ruled that the impact on Calypso "outweighs" the other primary considerations. He found the risk of Mr Lim reoffending or causing harm to others in Australia to be " low".
"I am satisfied that the discretion to refuse the visa on character grounds should not be exercised," said Dr McDermott.