Among the thousands of people prevented from entering are vital aged care workers, however, the government remains firm in prolonging a hard border in regards to bridging visa holders.
Exacerbated by the Omicron wave, Australia had already been struggling with a serious labour shortage in the age care sector, and current situations continue to remain dire.
Concurrently, the federal government remains immovable when it comes to strict border restrictions for a particular visa category – bridging visas – while allowing alternate fully vaccinated temporary visa holders to enter Australia.
The Guardian Australia, in requesting freedom of information documents, has reported that the prolonged hard border stance is affecting around 19,000 active bridging visa holders domestically, who wish to leave the country, and 4,246 people who are barred from entering, as of 15 December 2021.
Of those stuck outside Australia, 6,008 exemption requests were made by the parties between August 2020 and halfway through December 2021, in an attempt to travel to Australia.
One such worker who went through months of frustration stuck abroad was Kaura Simar, an aged care worker and registered nurse. Her employer in regional New South Wales, in dire need of her skills, had written numerous letters of support urging the government to grant her exemption.
Ms Simar too, being stranded between Dubai and India since June, made her own numerous attempts. She ended up making 28 separate applications for an Australia travel exemption due to the nature of her work.
The entirety of her application set was rejected.
Ms Simar recalls, “My employer sent me several emails, which showed that they needed [registered nurses] in regional areas and they couldn’t replace me.”
“They were frustrated, as I was.”
Finally, over six months later, the government approved an exemption request and provided her with a skilled work visa which enabled her to return to Australia in December, soon after she commenced her position in Coonabarabran.
The border restrictions are also causing hardship the other way round. For thousands on bridging visas currently in Australia, the policy has meant missing significant events abroad, even having travel exemptions on compassionate grounds denied when trying to reach funerals.
Still, others have been separated from loved ones for years.
Consistently the federal government has sought to defend its prolonged border restrictions surrounding bridging visa holders. A spokesperson acting for the home affairs department has highlighted the necessity to “balance the need to safely reopen with the continuing need to protect the Australian community from COVID-19”.