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Young Indian temporary visa holder returns to Australia after securing travel ban exemption

Rucha Kulkarni Source: Supplied

It was third-time lucky for skilled visa holder Rucha Kulkarni whose request for exemption from Australia’s coronavirus travel ban was approved last month.

A 26-year-old’s tumultuous journey will be culminating into a happy homecoming when she will return to her life and work in Melbourne next week.

Ms Kulkarni who is currently spending her last few days in hotel quarantine in Adelaide says she had never thought that she would be banned from entering the country she has called home for the past six years.


  • Indian-origin environmental scientist gets exempted from Australia's coronavirus travel ban
  • Temporary visa holders intending to return to Australia can apply for exemptions
  • Australian borders are currently closed to non-Australian citizens, residents

'Just don't give up'

“I had travelled to India back in March to be with my sister who was having a baby. I was planning to return on April 19th but then everything suddenly changed after Australia closed its borders on March 20,” says Ms Kulkarni.

Rucha Kulkarni received an exemption to Australia's travel ban in June.

“I immediately booked a last-minute return flight from Mumbai to Melbourne but was turned back from the airport as my flight was due to touch down in Australia 30 minutes after the travel ban kicked in," she says.

Ms Kulkarni who came to Australia nearly six years ago works as an environmental scientist with a Melbourne-based engineering firm that she claims has been instrumental in getting her back into the country.

“I shared my predicament with my employer, and they were very supportive. They immediately sent me a support letter outlining my skillset, but despite that my exemption request was rejected twice."

Along with adequate documents, Ms Kulkarni was asked to file another support letter from her employer outlining her contribution to the Australian economy and why no one else would be able to fulfil her position locally.

“It was in the third attempt that I filed in May that I received a positive response after I submitted a stronger support letter from my employer validating my skillset, the kind of projects I have been working on and most importantly, why no one in Australia could fill my shoes as it would require a university degree and adequate experience to be where I am," she says.

Hundreds of work visa holders are receiving rejections:

While Ms Kulkarni has made it back home, there are hundreds of other work visa holders who have made multiple requests to be allowed to return to the country only to be rejected each time.

Melbourne-based Swapnil Sharma who works as a senior consultant with Deloitte says his request for travel exemption on behalf of his wife and seven-month-old daughter has been rejected five times.

“I haven’t seen my daughter in the past four months which means I am a complete stranger to her by now. We have been forced to live separately at a time which is most crucial for a child’s upbringing. And if this isn’t compelling enough for the authorities, I don’t know what would be,” says Mr Sharma.

Swapnil Sharma
Swapnil Sharma with his wife Isha Gupta and their seven-month-old daughter.

“If this time they don’t grant my family an exemption, I would be forced to pack my bags and return to India and this would not be entirely my fault or loss. Australia would be losing a highly-skilled migrant to a country like Canada which values its migrants,” says the 31-year-old.

Mr Sharma is currently awaiting a response on his sixth application.

While the Department of Home Affairs has not specified how long it takes to process an exemption, migration agent Navjot Kailay says in the absence of pre-defined criteria, it would be safe to imply that complete requests result in faster and positive outcomes for the applicants.

“The Department has clarified that some requests are not even sent to the Border Force Commissioner for consideration because they are either incomplete or they do not meet the categories under which exemptions are considered,” he says.

“Another reason is that the Department is currently dealing with a very high volume of exemptions both for inward and outward travel which means they would be more inclined towards dealing with applications that are both complete and urgent at the same time,” he adds.

The Department of Home Affairs has revealed that it has allowed over a thousand non-citizens to enter the country during the period 20 March to 18 June 2020, of which a significant number were allowed in on compassionate grounds.

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. 

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