Thousands of immigrants are pleading for a change to Australia’s tough Covid-19 border rules so they can finally see their parents after 15 months.
Under one of the strictest border closures in the world, foreigners cannot enter the country and Australians are banned from leaving unless they depart for more than three months or qualify for an exemption.
The rules allow ‘immediate family’ of Australians and residents to enter via hotel quarantine but this only includes spouses and dependent children, not parents.
British Audiologist Sophie Robinson (pictured) has been in Australia for three years and wants to return to work after four months of maternity leave – but feels she can’t without her parents helping to look after her daughter
With no clear idea when the borders will open again, thousands of Australians with parents overseas are considering leaving the country for good, raising fears that existing skills shortages will be made worse.
Independent MP Zali Steggall and Greens Senator Nick McKim have tabled a petition in Parliament which has more than 70,000 signatures to change the definition of ‘immediate family’ to include parents.
Ms Steggall, the MP for Warringah on Sydney’s Northern Beaches, invited three immigrant mothers to Parliament House to tell their stories.
British Audiologist Sophie Robinson has been in Australia for three years and wants to return to work after four months of maternity leave – but feels she can’t without her parents helping to look after her daughter.
‘[My daughter] is four months now and there is no roadmap for reopening [the border] and I have no idea when they will ever get to meet her,’ she said.
‘My parents are getting older and older, so there is that worry in the back of your mind – will they ever even get to meet her?
‘I’ve thought quite seriously about moving back to the UK. I’m here in Canberra on a state-sponsored visa because Canberra has a shortage of audiologists and now I’m potentially thinking about leaving – it just seems mad,’ she said.
Azadeh Oskouipour said her parents were based in the US and had not met their grandchild.
Azadeh Oskouipour and Xanir, six months, at a press conference at Parliament House in Canberra
She said allowing 1,000 tennis stars and staff into Melbourne for the Australian Open in January while blocking parents enraged her.
‘Every time I read this kind of news it makes me very upset, more down, more disappointed, more feeling that there really is no hope – there is no light at the end of the tunnel,’ she said.
Meanwhile, thousands of British immigrants are discussing moving back to the UK in the Facebook Group Ping Pong Poms, which has 5,800 members.
Group member Jenny Beasley wrote: ‘Not being able to see my family has made me realise that I want my children to grow up with their grandparents and cousins around them.
‘Feel like I can’t fully settle here without my best friends and family.’
Another member Sammy Louise said she had already planned to move home because of the border rules.
‘We are moving back in 4 weeks because for us now, our priority is family.
‘Obviously given that we have no choice to go back for a long holiday we just have to call it,’ she wrote.
Ms Steggall, the MP for Warringah on Sydney’s Northern Beaches, invited three immigrant mothers (pictured) to Parliament House to tell their stories
Scott Morrison (pictured arriving home on Thursday) aims to open the international border in July 2022 but will closely monitor rates of hospitalisation and death in nations that have been largely vaccinated against Covid-19 to decide if it can open sooner
One member, Sarah Louise, said she left Australia last year because of the border ban.
‘With the whole border situation I didn’t know how long it would be before we [would] see our family as we hadn’t been back since my son was 6 months old in 2019,’ she wrote.
Since the border shut-down, about 100,000 overseas parents have applied for a temporary or permanent parent visa.
The hotel quarantine system can only take about 6,000 people a week, meaning it would struggle to accommodate 40,000 returning Aussies if immigrants’ parents were allowed in.
‘A cohort of this size cannot be accommodated within the current quarantine caps,’ a border force spokesman said.
Half of Australians were either born overseas or have at least one parent overseas, according to the 2016 census.
Ms Steggall fears a broader brain drain of skilled workers if the rules are not relaxed.
‘At the moment we have a void of ambition, and you do not win the race with a void of ambition,’ the former Olympian said.
Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews has said she would discuss the issue with Ms Steggall.
‘I would be more than happy to meet with you directly to pursue this further,’ she told Ms Steggall during Question Time on Tuesday.
The government aims to open the international border in July 2022 but will closely monitor rates of hospitalisation and death in nations that have been largely vaccinated against Covid-19 to decide if it can open sooner.
The petition was tabled independent MP Zali Steggall (left) and Greens senator Nick McKim on behalf of the advocacy group Parents Are Immediate Family