Australia is poised to lift its international border ban from November, giving long-awaited freedoms to fully vaccinated citizens and permanent residents, but not everyone will benefit from the plan. Many groups, including temporary visa holders, feel they have been left out.
Federal Government's plan to reopen the international border next month has come as a massive reprieve for Australian citizens, permanent residents and their immediate families desperate to travel and reunite with their loved ones overseas.
But the roadmap to freedom does little to nothing for temporary visa holders, who have been waiting for over 18 months to return to the lives they had painstakingly established in Australia.
- Fully vaccinated Australian citizens and permanent residents can leave the country and re-enter NSW without the need to quarantine from November
- Parents of Australian citizens and permanent residents will now be allowed into states that have reached 80% double dose vaccination targets
- Other tourists, international students and skilled migrants excluded from reopening of international borders
Good news for Australian citizens, permanent residents and their families
Fully vaccinated Australian citizens and permanent residents will be allowed to leave the country for any reason and re-enter without the need to quarantine in New South Wales from early November.
The policy has also extended to include their parents, even if they are foreign nationals and on visitor visas, in a long-awaited move that has been met with relief and excitement.
On 15 October, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced that parents of Australian citizens and permanent residents will now be classified as immediate family, allowing them to travel to states and territories that have reached 80 per cent double dose vaccination targets.
The news could not have come at a better time for Melbourne-based Rav and Simmi (names have been changed on request), expecting their first child in February.
"I was ecstatic when I heard the news on Friday, and we immediately applied for my in-laws' visa so they can be here in time for their grandchild's birth," Simmi said.
The 33-year-old and her husband are part of the Facebook group Parents are Immediate Family that has garnered over 25,000 members since its inception in October 2020.
The duo, who had been campaigning for parents to be included as immediate family for travel reasons, said their wish has alas been granted.
However, there are some caveats here. While NSW is set to reopen on 1 November, questions remain regarding how and when other states and territories will allow international travel. Not all jurisdictions have confirmed the federal government's plan to reopen when they reach 80 per cent vaccine milestones.
Here's where states stand on the reopening plan:
While the Western Australian government has held firm against allowing international travellers into the state until next year, Queensland will allow overseas travellers when the state hits 80 per cent double dose target, provided they receive a negative test within 72 hours and home quarantine for 14 days. These restrictions would, however, be lifted once the Sunshine State reaches 90 per cent vaccination rates.
Dropping a significant hint at when international travellers could re-enter Victoria, Premier Daniel Andrews on Monday said the state would likely scrap hotel quarantine for double jabbed Australians, but getting fully rid of the quarantine arrangements was not on the cards just yet.
"What (NSW Premier) Dominic (Perrottet) announced the other day is he is getting rid of hotel quarantine, we will do a similar thing – it will be home-based – particularly for those who are double dosed.
"With international borders, that is a matter for the federal government," Mr Andrews told Sunrise.
South Australia, on the other hand, remains non-committal on its approach towards allowing international travellers.
Questioned why some states remain prudent towards the national COVID-exit strategy, Mr Morrison said not all jurisdictions have the same vaccination or infection rates.
"When we reach 70 and 80 per cent vaccination rates under the National Plan, that gives us the opportunity to take the next steps.
"Now, Western Australia is not at the stage of New South Wales yet, neither is any other state or territory. I'm looking forward to them getting to that level because that means they will then have those options that people in New South Wales will have from 1 November," the prime minister said.
Where does this leave skilled migrants and international students?
Clarifying its stand on temporary visa holders stuck offshore, including work visa holders and international students, Mr Morrison said the government has "not yet" decided on that front.
"I'm going to progress steadily, but at the same time, carefully, and I welcome this first step. I think it's a positive step," he said about the government's reopening strategy.
For international student Arshpreet Kaur, who had travelled to Punjab in north India, to get married to her now-husband, Gurwinder Singh, the government's non-committal stance only means a longer wait to return to campus life in Sydney.
The 23-year-old IT student, who has been pursuing her studies online offshore, said it's high time the government showed some apathy towards existing students who have spent thousands on their degrees.
"I had just completed my first semester when I left for India in February 2020, and since then, I have completed three of my semesters online. But now it's high time, and I want to return to in-person learning to get a return of my investment for the remaining two semesters," she said.
Ms Kaur isn't the only one.
Hundreds of international students who expected to be first in line after Australians when borders reopen next month were left high and dry when the government announced that they would allow skilled migrants to re-enter before allowing international students in large numbers.
Gurnam Singh, the founder of Sydney-based Australian-Indian Sports Educational and Cultural Society (AISECS), who has been raising the plight of stranded international students with the NSW government, said students should not give up hope.
"I think the government's decision to lift border restrictions for Australians and their immediate families is a positive step that would eventually pave the way for the return of temporary visa holders, particularly international students, who are an important source of revenue for all states and territories," he said.
Mr Singh said the decimated education sector, which is reeling under the impact of COVID, is actively pushing for the return of students from all countries, including India, the second-largest source of international students to Australia after China.
What about tourists?
Travel would not immediately be open to foreigners, except for parents of Australian citizens and residents, but the government said they are working "towards welcoming tourists back to our shores".
This means those on visitor visas would have to hold their leisure travel plans until at least 2022.
Adelaide-based travel agent Gaurav Khera said tourists should have been an integral part of the government's reopening strategy.
"The tourism industry has lost billions since the government slammed shut its borders in March 2020. In fact, we were one of the first few industries who were hit by the COVID impact, and it's shocking and frustrating that the industry has been pushed to the end of the queue in the government's reopening plans," he said.
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