They thought their skilled worker visas would be approved in eight months. Three years later, they're still waiting

Separated families, financial hardship, and mental health impacts. Here are some of the stories of visa applicants stuck in limbo.

The wait for 489 regional skilled temporary migrant visas has stretched to three years

The wait for 489 regional skilled temporary migrant visas has stretched to three years. Source: SBS News

Maryum Imtiaz's husband is in Australia, while she and their young daughter are in Pakistan. She's been waiting over three years for her 489 visa to be approved.

She says she doesn't remember one day when she didn't miss her husband.

"We applied offshore but after that my husband went back to Australia," she told SBS news.
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"My daughter and I stayed here in Pakistan.

"Now it's been three years, one month, and nine days, and we're still waiting for our visa to be granted."

In 2019, fifteen thousand people applied for a 489 visa with the hope of making Australia their home.

It's a visa for skilled migrants to work in regional parts of Australia, and with labour shortages, applicants were hopeful.

The Australian government's website said at the time that wait times were around eight months, so applicants fronted the $4,000 fee, and sat tight.

Many quit their jobs, sold their family homes, and based their financial future on the expectation that they would be on their way to living in Australia within the next year.

Many also looked forward to being reunited with their loved ones - parents, children, partners - who were in Australia.
Then, the pandemic closed Australian borders and crushed the hopes of many visa applicants to enter the country, at least temporarily.

But three years after their application, with borders reopened, these migrants say not only can they help fix labour shortages, but that they're desperately waiting to see their families.

SBS News understands over 3,500 applicants from 2019 are still waiting for their visas to be approved.

"My daughter hardly remembers her father and she believes that daddy is a virtual character, because she can call him but can't touch or feel him, Ms Imtiaz said.

"The last several months Aminah, my daughter, stopped talking to her father."

Ms Imtiaz says the years of uncertainty are taking a toll on her mental health.

"If I talk about myself, I hardly remember any day when I didn't miss my husband.

"I am too young to live alone here and it's not safe.
"So the last three years my daughter and I have been physically dependent on my parents.

"I remember when my daughter was admitted to hospital for viral infections, and I had to look after her all alone. Now, I'm suffering from depression after the effects of processing times and the uncertainty.

"My husband went to Australia in 2008. Since then, he's been struggling for permanent residence.

"His last sponsor visa got refused and he's so stressed waiting for this visa approval.

"There's so much disturbance and discomfort in our relationship.

"Our conversations mostly end in arguments."

Ms Imtiaz says she has contacted "every department" but has had no result.
Maryum's husband, who is in Albury NSW, and their baby daughter.
Maryum's husband, who is in Albury NSW, and their baby daughter. Source: Supplied
"You can clearly see her sad eyes," she said, talking about her daughter who's been separated from her father for three years.

Sara Sabokbar and her husband sold everything they had two months before they thought their 489 visa application would be approved.

Three years later, Ms Sabokbar says her life has been "destroyed".

"After lodging the application in September 2019, my husband and I decided to sell everything we had to have enough money to immigrate to Australia.

"We thought it would take just 2-3 months, but unfortunately it takes three years and we suffered a lot from this situation.

"It's destroyed our life and we have to live in a rental apartment without a car, and you can imagine how difficult it is.

Ms Sabokbar is an agricultural scientist from Iran who was applying to work in regional South Australia.

She says there was a "critical" skill shortage in that sector on the Department of Home Affairs' website when she applied, and doesn't understand why she's still waiting now borders have reopened.

Ms Sabokbar says she was hopeful a Labor government would take a more "friendly" stance towards migrants, but that "nothing has happened" since they took power.

"In every email or phone call they [Australian immigration authorities] just told me you have to wait without any time frame.

"In this situation, all my family's plans are on hold and we cannot make any long-term decisions for our lives.
Aminah Imtiaz talks to her father over video call.
Aminah Imtiaz talks to her father over video call. Source: Supplied
"After the Labor party won the election, it lightened my hope that the new government would clear the backlog based on its immigration-friendly policies, but unfortunately nothing has happened yet.

"I understand that visa processing has been slowed down due to the pandemic and border closure. But vaccination has reached over 90 per cent in Australia and the border has been opened for any person even tourists, and Australian companies are suffering from shortages in skilled workers."

Ramin Habibi, from Iran, is a software engineer, a job he says there is a shortage of in Australia. He says he sold his apartment in 2019 to have enough money to migrate to Australia.

"My occupation, software engineering with focus on medical technologies, is in high demand in the IT job market in Australia," he said.

"I have had several job interviews and I got initial approval, but because of the delay in visa processing, I could not accept them.

"I envisioned building my family's lives in Australia and am eager to contribute my skills to the economic progress of the country.

"After lodging my application in September 2019, I sold my apartment in my hometown to provide enough money to come to Australia.

"We have to live with our parents now and it's very difficult."

Sharuti Hunjan, from Punjab, India, says the delays are "killing" her and her spouse "mentally and emotionally".
"I've sent requests for feedback many times, but there's never a response," she said.

"Life is stuck.

"It's really frustrating. I feel helpless. Even family members taunt us now.

"My husband is a mechanical engineer, and I have a son who's 7 years old. I'm worried for his future.

"The delays in visa grants are killing my spouse and I mentally and emotionally."

Parnam Singh Brar, also from Punjab, has been waiting for 39 months for his visa to be approved.

"We are a family of four and I am the main applicant of this file. I lodged my application back in April, 2019," he said.

"We are really disturbed by this whole situation and endless waiting.

"We are stuck and can’t do anything else.

"Please help us.

"Be our voice so the Department of Home Affairs can listen to us and do something about our files."

A spokesperson for the Department of Home Affairs told SBS News that the government is "committed to supporting Australia’s economic recovery through addressing critical skills shortages and workforce gaps by supporting industry to attract and retain skilled visa holders".

"The government is considering a range of measures aimed at addressing the immediate and emerging skills and labour gaps that Australia is facing, including investigating opportunities to improve skilled migration policy settings."

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7 min read
Published 25 July 2022 at 6:06am, updated 25 July 2022 at 7:29am
By Tom Canetti
Source: SBS News