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‘Temporary visa holders who have family, home or job in Australia must be allowed to return'

Balkarn Singh Gosal with his family. Source: Supplied

As more and more temporary visa holders receive rejections to applications for exemptions to the travel ban, Greens Senator and immigration spokesperson, Nick McKim has called on the government to make public the criteria used to assess these applications.

Balkarn Singh Gosal rushed to Ludhiana, his home town in the northern Indian state of Punjab, as soon as he heard the news of his uncle’s deteriorating health earlier this year.

While his wife and son stayed back in Brisbane, the 32-year-old touched down in India on January 25th, hoping to return to his job and loved ones, as soon as his uncle recovered.

But life had other plans as he could neither return nor his uncle ever recovered.


Highlights:

  • Greens Senator Nick McKim says temporary visa holders with families in Australia must be allowed to return
  • Senator McKim has asked the government to "develop and release" the criteria used to assess exemptions
  • Immigration Minister Alan Tudge says the government is yet to take a decision on opening borders

'Australia owes us to let us return to our lives'

After losing his uncle to the pandemic, Mr Gosal now fears that he stands to lose a lot more, if he is not allowed to return to rebuild his life in Australia, at the earliest.

Temp visa holder
Balkarn Singh Gosal feeding his son.
Supplied

“I have given four years of my life to Australia, have worked hard, built a home and life in Brisbane. Now I have been separated from my family and may never get my job back for no fault of mine,” he said.

Mr Gosal added that he applied for an exemption to travel on compassionate grounds twice, but each time his application was turned down.

“It is frustrating that I don’t even know the reason behind the denial. Both times, the Department of Home Affairs sent a standard response saying I didn't meet the criteria. I have made a significant contribution to the Australian economy, therefore, they must let us return to our lives,” he said.

Senator Nick McKim
Senator Nick McKim
AAP

Raising the plight of hundreds of such temporary visa holders, Senator McKim said the government must commit to the bare minimum of allowing at least those to return, who have financial means, partners and children here in Australia.

“I have asked Minister Alan Tudge is that at a bare minimum if somebody has a job in Australia, an immediate family member or a home, they absolutely need to be returned home and of course they would need to comply with quarantine requirements established by the health authorities,” Senator McKim said in an interview with SBS Punjabi.

The Department of Home Affairs has a provision to allow travel exemptions where it is essential, in the national interest or on humanitarian or compassionate grounds.

According to this provision, travellers who believe they have a “compassionate or compelling” reason to travel “urgently” will need to have an exemption from the ABF Commissioner, who will then determine if an applicant is eligible to travel. 

Speaking at a Senate hearing on COVID-19 earlier this month, ABF Commissioner Michael Outram said there was “no-factor weighted scoring model” for processing these applications and every one of these cases was “difficult” to assess.

“I have to balance the advice ... that the vast majority of COVID-19 cases have been imported from people coming from overseas and there's a need to protect our country and community from COVID-19," said Commissioner Outram.

Senator McKim said the government has an obligation to release the criteria it is using to assess these travel exemptions so that temporary migrants can understand the decision-making process and the reasons behind a large number of rejections.

“The decision making on this has been completely arbitrary, leaving hundreds of people stranded overseas, despite holding valid visas,” said Senator McKim.

“We are seeing a trickle of people who are being given permission to return home and the Greens campaign is about building the pressure on the government so that more and more people over time can be allowed to come back to Australia and rebuild their lives,” he added.

Earlier this month, Senator McKim also tabled a petition calling on the immigration authorities to grant a blanket exemption to all visa holders to the country’s coronavirus travel ban.

He also wrote to Acting Immigration Minister Alan Tudge seeking some "basic compassion" for visa holders.

There are currently 2.17 million people living in Australia on temporary visas. It is, however, not known how many of them are stranded offshore.

Responding to the growing calls to allow them to return to the country, Minister Tudge said the government is yet to make a decision on that front, indicating that borders may remain closed to non-Australian citizens and residents for the foreseeable future.

“Right now our focus is on keeping those borders strong. It will be some time away until we see immigration back to anything like normal,” said Minister Tudge.

People in Australia must stay at least 1.5 metres away from others. Check your state’s restrictions on gathering limits.

Testing for coronavirus is now widely available across Australia. If you are experiencing cold or flu symptoms, arrange a test by calling your doctor or contact the Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080.

The federal government's coronavirus tracing app COVIDSafe is available for download from your phone's app store.

SBS is committed to informing Australia’s diverse communities about the latest COVID-19 developments. News and information is available in 63 languages at sbs.com.au/coronavirus

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