Greens to introduce legislation to extend Australian visas for people stuck overseas

The Greens estimate there are thousands of people stuck overseas with temporary Australian visas that are running out or have expired.

Tasmanian Greens Senator Nick McKim

Tasmanian Greens Senator Nick McKim Source: SBS News/Sarah Maunder

The Greens will introduce legislation when the Senate returns in October that, if passed, would extend visas for people stuck overseas due to the pandemic. 

Twenty-nine-year-old Simranjit Singh travelled to India from Australia in March 2020 to be with his brother who was in the final stages of a brain tumour battle.

His brother died in May 2020, and Simranjit is now stranded in India as a result of Australia’s COVID-19 travel ban.

"My brother took his last breath in May, so after that I was thinking [Australia] would open the borders the following month, or in a couple of months," he told SBS News. 

Before March 2020, Simranjit had been living in Australia for seven years. He moved to Tasmania in August 2018 and is currently on a Skilled Work Regional (Provisional) visa.

Recently he was offered a full-time position as a chef at a restaurant in Hobart.

The position is identified as one of the 41 occupations on the current Priority Migration Skilled Occupation List (PMSOL), which fill critical skills needs to support Australia’s economic recovery from COVID-19.

"I've applied, I think, 12 times for a travel exemption to come back to Australia, but it has always been rejected. I am fully vaccinated as well," he said.

Tasmanian Senator Nick McKim will introduce the legislation to the Senate in October. 

Simranjit Singh has been stuck in India since March 2020.
Source: Supplied/Simranjit Singh

Speaking to SBS News, Mr McKim, who is the Australian Greens immigration spokesperson, said people are becoming desperate.

"They’ve been stuck overseas for a year-and-a-half now. There's no definitive end to our inbound travel ban and people are just sitting there watching their visas run down, and in many cases expire," he said.

"We believe that the government should have acted by now. We encourage and urge them to address these issues, but so far we haven’t seen anything from the government. So we’re putting this legislation forward as a model for what we believe the government’s response should be, but also to put pressure on the government to stand up and act."

The legislation will automatically credit a temporary visa holder’s visa with the amount of time Australia’s international border was closed, or with the time they have lost due to Australia’s international border closure. 

Mr McKim said it is difficult to know exactly how many people are currently stuck overseas on temporary visas, but he estimates it is affecting tens of thousands.

"This is not a small issue that is only affecting a few people," he said.

"There are significant numbers of people who through no fault of their own are stuck in limbo and we don’t want to see those people make a different choice, and end up deciding to go to Canada, or the UK, or the US or somebody else. We’d like them to come to Australia."

Greens Senator Nick McKim will introduce the legislation to the senate in October.
Source: SBS News/Sarah Maunder

He moved to Launceston shortly before he travelled to India in January 2020 to visit his family that he hadn't seen in more than three years.

Jatinderjit is hoping to get permanent residency, but to fulfil his visa requirement he needs to live in Tasmania for at least two years. 

"Twenty-two months of my visa is already gone," he said.

He has been offered a job as an accountant with Tasman Tax and Accounting in Hobart.

His role as an accountant also meets the Australian Border Force requirements of the Priority Migration Skilled Occupation List. 

"I have applied many times for a travel exemption [to get back to Australia] but I don't know why they haven't approved me. They haven't given me any reason."

While stuck in India, Jatinderjit hasn't been able to find work.

"I'm living with my parents, it's really hard for me to manage my expenses. I'm still paying for my rent in Tasmania, and other bills in Tasmania, and my credit card payments as well. So it's really hard to manage that without a job. 

"All my belongings are still in Tasmania. One of my friends is looking after all of that for me."

A spokesperson for Immigration Minister Alex Hawke told SBS News "the government continues working methodically to address a range of immigration challenges during the pandemic."

"This includes taking account of developing impacts on temporary and offshore visa holders," they said.

"The government continues to consider pandemic related concessions and will make further announcements when and as necessary."

In a statement, Tasmanian Liberal Senator Eric Abetz said the government “is already working through the issues to ensure equitable outcomes for visa holders”.

Published 23 September 2021 at 5:38pm, updated 23 September 2021 at 7:32pm
By Sarah Maunder
Source: SBS News