Australian visa holders are urging the government to include them in the country’s reopening plan

It is almost two years since Giovanni van Empel saw his children.

Last February, he left Yogyakarta, Indonesia, to pursue his doctorate at Melbourne’s Monash University.

He obtained a Postgraduate Research Sector visa and planned to spend the first six months settling before his family would join him.

“I have a wife and two children, but they could not come because the borders were closed,” he said.

“The last time I saw my daughter, she was only six months old and she just learned to sit, but now she can run.”

Sir. van Empel chose to stay in Melbourne because there was no guarantee that if he returned to Indonesia, his scholarship would continue.

“There is an economic significance to my scholarship because the scholarship is within a government plan, so it is not straightforward for us to apply for study leave.”

Giovanni van Empel smiles at a picture while standing in a green park.
Giovanni van Empel hopes that non-residents will also have more freedom to travel.(ABC News: Hellena Souisa )

He said his children have been hit hard by the 20-month intervals.

Every time he calls home, his seven-year-old son Kahlil repeats the same questions.

“He always asks, ‘When are you coming home? When are you coming home?’

“His performance in school has also been affected. [His grades] falling.”

A screenshot of Giovanni van Empel talking to his children during a video call.
Giovanni van Empel has been away from his children for almost two years.(Delivered.)

Sir. van Empel said he also suffered from being away from his two children and wife.

“I do not want to say that it has been easy for me, it has been strange in a way that I have not been around my family in this long period and I have missed them so much,” he said.

He said it was the simple things with his kids that he missed the most.

“Reading those stories before bed, playing with them, just growing up together, but that’s a long time ago now.”

Like many other visa holders, Mr van Empel had high hopes when the Australian Government announced that it would reopen international borders in states that had fully vaccinated 80 per cent of the eligible population.

From today, borders will open for fully vaccinated international arrivals in New South Wales, Victoria and ACT, and there will be no quarantine requirement.

However, the changes only apply to Australian citizens, permanent residents and their families, which means temporary residents and visa holders remain in limbo.

“I believe in us [visa holders] “should be treated in the same way as permanent residents, there is no reason why we should be treated differently because we are in the same situation,” said Mr van Empel.

Sir. van Empel is not alone. At least 1.6 million temporary residents have different visas in Australia, according to the Department of Home Affairs.

‘Visa holders are not treated as key members of the community’

Report cover
Thousands of non-permanent residents have talked about their struggles to cope during the pandemic.

This is not the first time that temporary residents or visa holders have been left out of key national policies.

In 2020, researchers from the University of Technology Sydney (UTS), the University of New South Wales (UNSW) and the Migrant Worker Justice Initiative published a report entitled, As if we were not humans: The abandonment of temporary migrants in Australia under COVID-19 .

In a survey of 6,105 non-permanent residents, most said they had experienced various difficulties, such as not having a place to live or work in exploitative and dangerous environments because they were not part of the Australian Government’s financial aid package.

The package initially included only citizens and permanent residents.

Dr. Laurie Berg of UTS said the exclusion of visa holders from the November reopening plan confirmed the Australian Government’s position.

The leader of the Greens, Adam Bandt, said the reopening of the roadmap involved “double standards”, especially as many visa holders had legitimate reasons to travel abroad.

“The government seems to have no problem letting billionaires, like Andrew Forrest, come and go as they please, but when people want to go abroad for a funeral or perhaps to see their parents or loved ones for the last time, the government is failing them and not letting them do it. “

Bandt said many visa holders were in a difficult situation because “if they leave Australia, the door will be closed behind them”.

“We do not call for special treatment. The government should just give people who are stuck here away from their loved ones the same rights that they give to Australian citizens.

Petitions from visa holders

Like Mr van Empel, Jennifer Clayburn, a US citizen, is a temporary resident who has a visa for temporary skills shortage.

Her family moved to Melbourne in January last year for her husband’s work, which provides products and services to critical infrastructure and construction sectors.

Jennifer Clayburn poses for a photo with her family in front of a brick background.
Jennifer Clayburn started a petition calling on visa holders to be treated in the same way as Australian citizens and permanent residents.(Delivered.)

She said she had hopes for the national plan.

“I think it’s vague about the definition of residents and where we’re getting involved in the national plan,” Clayburn said.

“We’ve done it hard with all Australians. We also want to be around the table this Christmas with our family, but we do not want to be summarily locked out of Australia when we return.”

Ms Clayburn said she had set up a parliamentary petition to give all visa holders a vote.

“By including all residents – both temporary and permanent – and all citizens already in the reopening of the border, I believe that the even higher demand for outbound travel will lead to more availability of aircraft for inbound flights – a benefit for all who are affected by the travel ban, “she said.

Ms Clayburn’s petition has been signed by more than 2,000 people since it was approved last week, while a similar petition on change.org has garnered nearly 30,000 signatures.

Laurie Berg poses for a portrait photograph.  Her hair is dark and short and strokes across her forehead.  She is wearing a floral shirt.
Laurie Berg of the University of Technology Sydney says the Australian government needs to better recognize visa holders.(Delivered: UTS)

Dr. Berg said the Australian government “must recognize the existence of temporary visa holders as an important part of Australian society and must be aware of what they mean”.

She said she hoped the absence of temporary residents in the reopening policy was an oversight and would “be rectified, as when the government corrected its financial support policy for temporary residents last year,” she said.

The Interior Ministry did not provide specific comments on whether temporary residents would be included in the reopening plan soon.

“We must first make sure that our priority is and remains to take care of the Australians,” Home Secretary Karen Andrews told ABC.

“We will then work with other cohorts. This includes our economic cohorts so that our skilled workers can enter the country; then it will be international students; then we will look at travelers from abroad – so our tourists – will be able to enter again. . “

Until then, Mr van Empel will continue to rely on video calls to watch his children.

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