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This Indian international student is set to return to Australia with her family despite border closure

Meenu Dhawan with her family. Source: Supplied

An international student, her dependent husband and six-year-old daughter stuck in India due to Australia’s border closure have received travel exemptions on compassionate grounds after 15 attempts.

Meenu Dhawan’s flying visit to India in mid-March turned into a six-month-long stay after the Australian government clamped down its borders to prevent the import of coronavirus infections through returned international travellers.

The 37-year-old international student says while she had the support of her husband and daughter who had accompanied her on the short trip, her 17-year-old son who had chosen to stay back in Tasmania to avoid missing school, was left alone in Hobart.

“I had travelled to India to take an exam on March 12 and we had our return flight booked for the 20th of the same month. But suddenly the Australian government imposed a travel ban and we got separated from our teenage son, who we had left in the care of his uncle,” she says.


  • Indian international student and her dependent family set to return to Australia despite a travel ban
  • Ms Dhawan got an exemption from Australia's travel ban on compassionate grounds
  • Australia has witnessed nearly 100% drop in student visa arrivals in June 2020


Temp visa holder
Meenu Dhawan with her husband Ashwani and daughter Kyna.

Ms Dhawan, who is pursuing an advanced diploma in leadership and management from a vocational institute in Hobart, says she had little to no hope of getting an exemption from the travel ban, but she kept trying in the hope that the authorities would show some compassion.

And to her surprise, an approval landed in her inbox last month, days after the Australian Border Force Commissioner Michael Outram committed to reviewing guidelines for people in family groups seeking to enter Australia.

“I couldn’t believe that we had been exempted because I honestly haven’t heard of any international student or their families from India who have received approval. Now the next big challenge is to find seats on a plane to Australia, so we can reunite with our son,” she adds.

Australia has witnessed nearly 100% drop in student visa arrivals in June 2020

Ever since the borders closed in March, there were hardly any students who were allowed to return to Australia. According to the latest ABS data, there were only 60 arrivals to Australia travelling on an international student visa in June 2020. This was a decrease of nearly 100% or 45,980 students compared to the corresponding month of the previous year.

Temp visa holder
Preeti Sharma with her family.

Preeti Sharma and her four-year-old son, who are also on a student dependent visa, are also now planning their return after receiving a travel exemption on critical skills.

The 31-year-old mum works as a part-time customer service attendant at a fuel station in Melbourne, while her husband is a full-time student.

“I had applied on compassionate grounds twice, but both my applications were rejected. Then I tried applying on critical skills in late August, and we were surprisingly approved,” she says.

Chandigarh-based migration agent Navjot Singh who has applied for inward exemptions for many temporary visa holders stuck in India says of late there has been a significant uptick in exemptions on compassionate grounds.

"But until now, I had not heard of anyone on a student visa or for that matter their dependent families who have received an exemption to travel. But if the approvals have started to come in for cases that are really compelling, it is a relief for hundreds of students who remain stranded in India," he says.

As per the latest figures revealed by the ABF, at least 3,003 applications from people seeking to enter Australia on compassionate and compelling grounds were approved while 3,929 were rejected as at August 2020.

These numbers do not include requests from persons who were found to meet an already exempt category, any requests that were withdrawn, or any requests that did not contain sufficient information for consideration by the Commissioner or a delegate.

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