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'Yet another roadblock': Anxiety mounts for temporary visa holders as Australia caps international arrivals

Australia’s decision to reduce international arrival numbers has created more barriers for international students and work visa holders desperate to return to their lives and loved ones in the country.

Sydney-based IT professional Vinoad Sharrma hasn’t been able to live together with his wife and son for five months, ever since they went to India due to a family emergency.

He says the Australian federal government’s crackdown on overseas arrivals has dealt a fresh blow to his family, which is already buckling under the strain of separation.


Highlights:

  • Australia's decision to cap international arrivals creates further barriers for temporary visa holders
  • "Temporary visa holders will have to wait longer to enter Australia," says Abul Rizvi
  • Nearly one million temporary visa holders excluding visitors are stranded offshore

The skilled visa holder who has been working in Australia for almost five years now, says he is worried that the move may further delay his reunion with the family which has already been denied an exemption to travel on compassionate grounds at least five times since March.

“It’s a living nightmare and a challenge for temporary visa holders to get exemptions. And now that the government has cut down the number of arrivals and flights, this could mean that our families would be pushed further down in the queue, delaying their return for longer than we initially anticipated,” he says.

Temp visa holder
Vinoad Sharrma with his wife Vinietaa Sharrma and their son Viyaan Sharrma.
Supplied

Mr Sharrma is joined by hundreds of visa holders separated from their families who are calling the government to rethink its plan to restrict international arrivals.

Ravi*, who wishes to remain anonymous says the decision has further hampered their chances to return to Australia.

"We have knocked at every possible door - be it the immigration department or our local MPs. We were told that temporary migrants are in the queue and will be given a chance to return once all Australians return to the country. But now the government has made it difficult for even its own citizens and residents to return, so where does that leave us?" he questions.

*Ravi is not his real name.

‘Priority will be given to Australians’

The recently announced capping means 4,000 fewer people will be coming to Australia each week.

Former senior Immigration Department official Abul Rizvi says when it comes to the question of who will be allowed to enter first at a time when some states are at crossroads of a fresh outbreak, “the government has no choice but to give priority to its citizens and permanent residents returning above temporary residents.”

“It would mean further delays in their ability to return to Australia unless there are other compelling or compassionate circumstances,” says Mr Rizvi.

“In fact, the government has made it clear they will prioritise business and skilled migrants so if there are temporary entrants who have skills in demand then they may get a chance through that process to enter. But outside that it is going to be very difficult,” he adds.

'Yet another roadblock'

Tushar Sen
Temporary visa holder Tushar Sen's application for exemption has been denied four times.
Supplied

The restricted entry of international arrivals also poses a logistical issue for airlines who have been forced to reduce passenger capacities for each flight to accommodate the limit set by the Australian states and territories.

Tushar Sen who has been stranded in India since March says limited seats on those limited flights will pose an even bigger challenge for visa holders seeking to enter Australia.

“Booking a flight ticket was already highly competitive with only citizens and residents reserving those tickets. Now with the capping, even in a situation where let’s say a visa holder manages to get an exemption to travel, it will be next to impossible to book a flight- yet another roadblock for temporary visa holders,” says the 26-year-old.

“As of now only six Air India flights are scheduled to touch down in Australia in the month of July and if the capacity in those flights is further cut down, even citizens and residents booked on those flights wouldn’t be able to return,” says Mr Sen.

Will capping on international arrivals impact travel exemptions for visa holders?

According to the Department of Home Affairs figures, nearly one million temporary visa holders, excluding visitors remain outside the country, many of whom have filed for exemptions.

Migration agent Navjot Kailay says while it is difficult to gauge if capping will have an impact on the process of granting travel exemptions, it is, however, clear that the Morrison government is currently focused on staving off a second wave of the coronavirus outbreak.

“If you look at this from a policy point of view, the decision to cut down international flights means that temporary visa holders stranded offshore are not on the list of people who will be allowed into the country in the foreseeable future or probably till the time a vaccine is developed,” says Mr Kailay.

He adds that the new rules also don’t bode well for international students who were expected to return on a pilot basis later this month.

“A lot of people were waiting for the pilots to begin hoping that a safe return of international students would pave way for the eventual return of other temporary visa holders. But the fact that even those plans have been halted indicates that the government isn’t considering lifting border restrictions anytime soon,” adds Mr Kailay.

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

If you are experiencing cold or flu symptoms, stay home and arrange a test by calling your doctor or contact the Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080. 

News and information is available in 63 languages at sbs.com.au/coronavirus 

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