Australia

Spouses of Australian citizens or permanent residents denied entry after visas cancelled

Some of the couples affected by the travel ban. Source: Supplied

EXCLUSIVE: Spouses of Australian citizens and permanent residents are not being allowed to return home during the China travel ban.

Newlywed Chinese-Australian couples are being separated as the government enforces the China travel ban, despite public assurances that spouses would be exempted. 

The Department of Home Affairs said the ban, intended to curb the spread of the coronavirus, is not meant to apply to Australian citizens, permanent residents or their families and spouses.

But SBS News has been told there are at least 30 instances where a Chinese citizen who has recently married an Australian citizen or permanent resident has not been allowed to return. 

Qi Chang and Chenfei Deng got married on a recent trip to Shanghai after dating for two years.

But while Ms Qi, an Australian permanent resident, was allowed to board a flight back to Tasmania on 6 February, her husband who had a valid student visa was not.

They provided airport staff with documents to prove their legal union, but to no avail.

After returning to Australia alone, Ms Qi was shocked to discover via the Home Affairs online system that her husband's student visa, due to expire on 15 March 2020, had been cancelled.

Qi Chang and Chenfei Deng have been seperated.
Qi Chang and Chenfei Deng have been seperated.
Supplied

"I feel quite helpless and I'm not sure what to do," she told SBS News.

Ms Qi is five months pregnant and said she is worried her husband may not be permitted back into the country when she has her baby.

"I saw our baby for the first time on Wednesday ... she looked really cute but my husband missed everything," she said.

"I hope my husband can be back as soon as possible because he has the right to be in Australia."

The Home Affairs website states that "immediate family members of Australian citizens and permanent residents including spouses, minor dependents and legal guardians are permitted to enter Australia despite the travel ban".

"Arrangements will be made to reinstate visas as appropriate following the lifting of these enhanced border control measures," the website states.

A spokesperson from the Department of Home Affairs said the Department does not comment on individual cases.

“It is open to an individual who has their visa cancelled to apply for the decision to be revoked,” they added.

At least 30 similar cases

Migration agent Kirk Yan told SBS News he is aware of at least 30 similar cases.

"It's confusing as to why [Mr Deng] cannot reunite with Ms Qi, when they are married and especially for cases like Ms Qi who is pregnant and needs help," he said.

"The second issue here is that they don't know when and how they can get their visa back, and they are also afraid that any future visa or citizenship application would be affected by this cancellation."

In most cases, individuals blocked from returning to Australia with their husband or wife did not hold partner visas, the couples say they were not told that was necessary to get an exemption from the travel ban. 

Mr Yan said it is a lack of consistent coordination between government bodies which has led to cases like this slipping through the cracks.

"We have sought advice from various Australian departments to help advise our clients and we have received quite confusing information back," he said.

"I do think there should be some discretionary power for people on the ground dealing with people coming through the airport, such as the Australian Border Force, to make a decision based on the evidence before them rather than make automatic cancellations of peoples' visas."

'I feel depressed a lot'

For Zixun Wang and her husband Lachlan Maclaine-Cross, it's a similar story.

Ms Wang was not permitted to leave China for Melbourne on 7 February, despite being married to her Australian husband, Lachlan Maclaine-Cross since December.

The couple said they called Home Affairs to seek clarification before they went to the airport in China and were told that if they brought documents which proved they were married, they should be permitted to return to Melbourne.

The pair decided to stay in China and this week, Ms Wang discovered her visa had been cancelled.

Lachlan Maclaine-Cross and Zixun Wang.
Lachlan Maclaine-Cross and Zixun Wang.
Supplied

Ms Wang said she feels people like her have been punished despite doing nothing wrong.

"I feel depressed a lot, I'm a little scared of life in Australia in the future," she said.

"I don't want to live in a country where they try to break me down. I feel this is an immigration country, they have to respect immigrants but I didn't feel the respect."

Ms Wang and Mr Maclaine-Cross are also questioning what processes will be in place for visa reinstatement.

They said the Home Affairs department had not been clear regarding whether they will be eligible and how the process will work.

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