Stating that the COVID crisis is now stabilising in India, Indian-Australians wanting to travel to India have lodged an online petition seeking the removal of India from the list of 'high-risk countries.'
Brisbane resident Amit Jaura had submitted multiple requests for an outbound exemption to the Australian Border Force (ABF), only to be rejected each time.
The 37-year-old IT professional is desperate to meet his critically-ill father but feels as if all doors have closed on him.
- Indian-Australian community petitions for expansion of outbound travel exemption criteria
- ABF grants outbound exemption for travel to India only in limited circumstances
- From 1 August 2020 to 25 April, approval rate for travel to India was 22 per cent lower than that for the UK
“It’s been three years since I saw my father who is suffering from a serious heart ailment. I have applied for exemption at least six times but in vain.
“As per the ABF’s criteria on the Department of Home Affairs’ website for those seeking travel to India, visiting a close family member who is critically-ill is on the list. Despite that, my requests have been rejected,” he says.
Mr Jaura is not alone.
There are hundreds of Indian-Australians who have compelling reasons to travel to their home country, but their requests have been declined.
They have now petitioned the Australian government to expand its limited criteria for outbound exemptions, which has fetched over 700 signatures in a day.
Currently, individuals seeking an exemption to travel from Australia to India can only be approved in the following limited circumstances:
- critical workers providing assistance to India’s COVID-19 response
- people travelling in Australia’s national interest
- people seeking urgent medical treatment for a critical illness that cannot be treated in Australia
- people travelling due to the death or funeral of a close family member
- people visiting a close family member who is critically-ill
- people seeking to travel to India to escort an Australian citizen or permanent resident minor back to Australia
The petitioners demand that in the wake of India’s declining COVID cases and deaths and rising vaccination rates, the Morrison government reinstate the original outward exemption criteria for India that was applicable to other countries.
According to data from India’s health ministry, their daily new COVID cases and deaths have continued to decline.
On 6 July, India reported 34,703 new cases in the last 24 hours, making it the third time that the country has reported less than 40,000 cases in the last eight days.
‘Australia’s travel policy for India discriminatory and arbitrary’
Mr Jaura, a front-runner for this petition, says the Australian government’s strict travel policy for individuals seeking travel to India is “not only discriminatory but also arbitrary.”
“We stood by the government when it imposed a travel ban while the second wave of the coronavirus was at its peak in India. But now, things are stabilising and the situation is relatively under control.
“The government must also consider that, unlike the last two months, the Delta variant of the coronavirus is not only associated with India but is prevalent in many other countries including the UK and the US. No restrictions have been placed on people seeking exemptions to travel to these countries. Then why is India being singled out,” Mr Jaura questions.
According to recent data received by SBS News from the Department of Home Affairs through a Freedom of Information request, India was the top travel destination for Australian citizens and permanent residents from 1 August 2020 to 25 April.
Figures show that a total of 25,443 requests for outward exemptions were submitted by individuals seeking to travel to India, followed by China (21,547) and the UK (15,703).
But while the approval rate to travel to the UK was 68 per cent, the same for India stood at 46 per cent, showing a difference of 22 per cent.
Professor Shamit Saggar, Director of the Public Policy Institute at the University of Western Australia, said Australia should not have acted in this way during India's time of crisis.
“Australian political leaders have been genuinely courting India for many years for trade reasons, for security reasons. And in this crisis, it was really quite regrettable, quite shameful to see Australian leaders turn their back on India,” he told SBS Punjabi.
Calling them “unusual,” Prof Saggar said the recent travel restrictions could have a lasting impact on the Australia-India relationship.
“The problem with the evacuation flights and suspending any plans for them in the recent crisis that we saw in May, gave the appearance of double standards. And that went down very badly.
“It went down badly in India, where people are very sensitive, quite rightly, about relationships and being treated properly. It also went down very badly in Australia’s Indian diaspora, it’s Indian communities, all of whom were surprised to see just how strong that negative reaction was, and how quick it was,” he added.
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.