At a time when thousands of international students and other temporary visa holders are anxiously waiting to return to Australia, some visa holders have been permitted, but their journeys have not been without challenges.
Indian international student Harshpreet Kaur breathed a sigh of relief when her husband, Manvir Singh Dhaliwal, who is dependent on her visa, received his inward travel exemption to enter Australia on compassionate grounds last week.
- Families of two Indian international students receive exemption from Australia's international travel ban
- Over 1,000 international students have received inward travel exemptions since August
- “We look forward to the day where students are able to come back onshore and study in our communities," says MP Julian Hill
The 22-year-old, who gave birth to her first child in November 2020, said this news took time to sink in, especially because Mr Dhaliwal's initial request for a dependent visa had been declined in 2018.
“The past year was extremely challenging for me as I had to deal with my first pregnancy and deliver the baby all alone without any family support whatsoever,” the young mum said.
Since March 2020, Australia has enforced very strict travel restrictions, especially for incoming international passengers. Exemption from the Australian Border Force is mandatory to enter the country unless the passenger is an Australian citizen or permanent resident.
“I’m glad that finally, my husband will get to meet his son in person for the first time and support me as I return to my bachelor’s degree in business that I have currently deferred till March," Ms Kaur said.
'Proper documentation for successful travel exemption'
Sydney-based solicitor Jaspreet Singh who helped the young couple navigate the “onerous” process, said people need to ensure they submit complete documentation while filing a request to the Australian Border Force for an inward exemption.
“People should not take this lightly, must include all documents and think out of the box when applying for exemption. For instance, in Mr Dhaliwal’s case, I cited relevant UN treaties that safeguard the interests of children such as in this case, where their four-month-old baby is separated from his father,” he says.
Mr Singh, who has been helping people seeking travel exemptions on compassionate grounds, said that student visa holders and their dependents are often confused about this process and find it difficult.
“While these exemptions are hard to come by, those who have families must ensure they include detailed evidence and a letter explaining their compelling circumstances for a successful travel exemption,” he advises.
Avani* and her seven-year-old son Rushan*, have also received an exemption from Australia’s current border ban.
The 32-year-old, who is on a dependent student visa, told SBS Punjabi that her husband is a disability support worker in a regional town in New South Wales.
“My husband works in a critical sector in regional NSW and has been living alone in anxiety without his family. His employer too was aware of his condition and supported our effort to receive exemption from the ABF,” she says.
“The next big hurdle is, of course, to arrange flight tickets which I’m now realising maybe even more difficult than getting an exemption,” she wonders.
Thousand return, thousands remain:
While these families have been able to jump the queue, there are hundreds of student visa holders and their dependent families who remain locked out of Australia. However, recent data obtained by NCA NewsWire indicates that over 1,000 foreign students have received exemption since the start of August.
Business student Arundeep Singh, who remains stuck in Punjab, said, “allowing a thousand students from around the world while many more remain stranded, is hardly going to scratch the surface of the problem.”
“Around 200,000 Australian international students were overseas when pandemic struck in March 2020. Since then, thousands more have departed. More than 13,000 students have returned to India alone. So, allowing a handful of students into Australia would not make a difference,” the 26-year-old said.
Despite mounting pressure from universities and other stakeholders, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has not committed to a timeline for the return of international students, maintaining that the 40,000 Australians stranded overseas remain a top priority.
Raising the issue of the plight of foreign students in Parliament earlier this week, Labor MP Julian Hill called out the government for its “lack of empathy or concern” for students offshore.
We look forward to the day where students are able to come back onshore and study in our communities
“Australians are a better people than the way we've been represented by our prime minister, who has not shown any care, any empathy, any recognition of the plight that you have suffered,” Mr Hill said.
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