Only weeks before she was due to be deported, the American carer of a 97-year-old war veteran has been allowed to remain in Australia.

Henrietta Santiago, who is 76 years old, has cared for Louis Smit for the last four years, but her visa was due to expire in a matter of weeks.

After numerous attempts over the last two years to secure a visa for Ms Santiago failed, their local member became involved in the case, and the ABC began following the story.

Finally, last week the Federal Government had a change of heart, and Ms Santiago will be allowed to remain in Australia to care for Mr Smit.

Carer allows Mr Smit to remain at home

The care that Ms Santiago provides for Mr Smit, which is paid for by his family, allows him to remain in his home – an apartment on the Gold Coast with panoramic views – undoubtedly a lovely place for him to spend his days.

By caring for him at home, Ms Santiago is easing the burden on the health and aged care systems.

Carer visas are only allowed in Australia for close family members, and though Ms Santiago is best friends with Mr Smit’s daughter, she did not qualify.

Should it be easier for foreign carers to get visas to work in Australia?

Holly Byrne, of HB Migration, told HelloCare that she is often asked for visas for nannies and carers, but under the current rules they are generally not allowed. Only diplomats and heads of major foreign corporations are granted visas for carers coming into Australia, she said.

Ms Byrne said the government could consider broadening the definition of family for carer visas.

Skilled staff, such as registered nurses, are able to get visas, Ms Byrne said. And people on foreign students visas often choose to work as carers in aged care.

But Ms Byrne said a number of problems could arise if foreign, unskilled carers were allowed a special category of visa in Australia.

She said there could be the potential for foreign workers to undercut the pay and conditions of local employees.

And, although there is a shortage of workers in the aged care sector in Australia, there is underemployment in the broader economy. Ms Byrne said there are relatively low barriers to entry for carer roles, and we should be able to find local staff to fill these positions.

The system could also be rorted to gain people entry to Australia, she said. Carers may be granted a visa, but then move on to perform different roles.

When workers come to the end of their visa, Ms Byrne said they often don’t want to go home, which could also pose problems.

As for Mr Smit’s situation, “It’s a unique case,” she said. “But why shouldn’t he be cared for by the person he wants?”

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