Australia's migrant families set for emotional reunions as international border reopens

Almost two years since Australia's international border was closed, it will reopen to the world on Monday 21 February, bringing relief to those on temporary visas who have been separated from their families overseas.

Tatiana Cardoso with her parents

Tatiana Cardoso hasn't seen her parents for three years. Source: Supplied/Tatiana Cardoso

Tatiana Cardoso has endured years of separation from her family and many missed milestones during the COVID-19 pandemic.

After moving to Sydney from the United Kingdom in July 2019 on a Temporary Skill Shortage visa (subclass 482) - six months before the first COVID-19 case was detected in Melbourne  - she was asked to return home for a visit to be a bridesmaid at her brother's wedding.

But when the Federal Government slammed Australia's international borders shut in March 2020, Ms Cardoso, 27, found herself trapped, with temporary visa holders facing strict new rules that made it near impossible to re-enter the country after leaving. 

"I watched my brother's wedding through a YouTube live stream in the middle of the night," she says. 

Tatiana Cardoso lives with her partner Jordan Girdis in Sydney.
Tatiana Cardoso lives with her partner Jordan Girdis in Sydney. Source: Supplied

She also moved in with her new partner during the time she has been in Australia - another milestone she hasn't been able to share with her family. 

"It's got to the point where I've been with my partner for three years and my dad still hasn't met him."

I've been with my partner for three years and my dad still hasn't met him. - Tatiana Cardoso
While some allowances were eventually made in October  under new exemptions, as a temporary visa holder, Ms Cardoso's parents, who live in New York, weren't eligible.

But this week they are due to arrive in Sydney following Prime Minister Scott Morrison's decision to re-open the borders to all fully vaccinated travellers from 21 February.

Ms Cardoso knows the reunion will be an emotional one.

Despite applying for six travel exemptions to visit her parents in the US or allow them to visit her in Sydney over the course of the pandemic, Ms Cardoso says all her applications were denied.

"Having had so much rejection and essentially my freedom being taken away, I just gave up."

Tatiana Cardoso with her parents at a restaurant
Tatiana Cardoso with her parents Carlos and Marlene. Source: Supplied/Tatiana Cardoso

And even after they reunite, she says she's still nervous about her own situation.

"I won't leave Australia without my permanent residency."

Ms Cardoso has been waiting for her permanent residency visa application to be processed for just over seven months.

"The government very quickly shut the border and they could do it again ... and clearly skilled workers in Australia on sponsorships are treated very, very differently to citizens and permanent residents."

Perth mother-of-two Emma Cochrane is counting down the hours until she sees her mother Jillian who arrives from the United Kingdom on Tuesday.

As a skilled migrant on a bridging visa, the 38-year-old was also among the thousands of temporary residents who felt trapped in Australia by the border closures during the pandemic.

"It meant we had to apply for an exemption to get back into Australia if we left - which I did 17 times and all 17 applications were declined," she says. 

Emma Cochrane has been trapped in Australia since the start of the pandemic on a bridging visa.
Emma Cochrane has been trapped in Australia since the start of the pandemic on a bridging visa. Source: SBS News

Ms Cochrane was granted permanent residency last Friday, 18 months after applying.

But while Australia's international border is about to re-open, the situation in Western Australia is a little different. 

"There are extra loopholes you have to go through, so my mum is flying into Brisbane and then she'll fly from Brisbane into WA," Ms Cochrane says. 

"It's actually been an easy process ... she's happy to spend a week in quarantine because she's going to be here for three months, so it's worth it in the long run."

WA Premier Mark McGowan announced on Friday , bringing to an end almost 700 days of it being closed. 

Dr Barbara Nattabi, senior lecturer at the University of Western Australia's School of Population and Global Health says with COVID-19 cases on the rise in the state it was important to ensure vulnerable groups, including aged care residents, were triple vaccinated before the border reopened.

"WA has had a very long period without large case numbers and we may have become complacent, so it's important for us to remember that when the borders come down there's a high probability cases will go up."

"All of us will be at risk of contracting COVID-19 but we also have it within our control to make sure that Omicron does not spread as widely as it has in other states."

UWA senior lecturer Dr Barbara Nattabi.
UWA senior lecturer Dr Barbara Nattabi. Source: Supplied

WA had been due to fully reopen on 5 February before Mr McGowan backtracked, citing high rates of Omicron-related hospitalisations and deaths in the eastern states.

The state's booster rate has since climbed above 56 per cent.

In a statement on the international border reopening made earlier this month, Mr Morrison said: "Australia will reopen to all fully vaccinated visa holders, welcoming the return of tourists, business travellers, and other visitors from 21 February.

"These changes will ensure we protect the health of Australians, while we continue to secure our economic recovery.

"Since the Morrison Government commenced Australia’s staged international border reopening on 1 November 2021 we have seen almost 580,000 arrivals come to Australia including to reunite with loved ones, work or study."

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5 min read
Published 20 February 2022 at 7:53am
By Cassandra Bain
Source: SBS News