Thousands of qualified regional visa holders stranded abroad and want clarification on their future


Hansanul Bunna Khan remembers the exact moment when the promise of a life in Australia suddenly unfolded before him.

“It was a golden moment when I received this email,” said the father of a child from Bangladesh, as his voice cracked slightly.

“Everything was possible.

After years of trying to forge a path to Australia, Mr Khan, who worked as a project manager in the capital, Dhaka, had obtained a qualified regional visa.

The visa has been a popular option for professionals like Mr. Khan looking to relocate to Australia.

The case was simple.

If he spent at least two years in a specified part of regional Australia, he would be offered a path to permanent residence and the opportunity to settle here with his wife and young son.

But Mr. Khan’s hopes and aspirations, like those of countless others around the world, have been shattered by COVID-19.

Stuck in the living stasis of savings

Mr Khan says his family want to work hard in Australia to “prove to you that we are your people”.

After a brief stint in Australia, he returned to Bangladesh with his family in 2019 to help his ailing parents and younger sister, struggling with domestic violence and a painful divorce.

Then the world changed.

On March 18, 2020, just two weeks before Mr Khan flew back to Australia, the border was closed as a frightening new pandemic swept the world.

Almost a year and a half later, he is still stuck in Dhaka with his family in a sort of stasis, living off his savings.

He has repeatedly asked – 18 times in total – for a travel exemption to return to Australia. Each time he was rejected.

Hansanul Bunna Khan with his wife Tashfia and son Nayel
Mr Khan and his wife Tashfia sold precious jewelry to help cover the costs of their planned move.

The uncertainty has taken its toll.

As the months passed without any sign of the border opening, a deep shock slowly set in.

“Last year, around August, I was so depressed that I went to the doctor for advice,” Khan said.

“I am always on anti-stress, to stay stable. I have to be strong in front of my parents, my wife and my son.”

But he worries for his son, Nayel, as well as his wife, Tashfia.

“Our life is not moving, it is on hold. My five year old son is supposed to be in school right now in Australia. He is struggling at home. It cannot be a child’s life. wants to make friends in Australia, ”Khan said.

“Every time he asks, baba, when are we going to Australia?

“I’m just giving her hope. I say we’ll go someday, that’s the thing I’ll say. I don’t want to break her hope. And I want to keep my hope too.”

The Khan family is not alone.

House sold, flights booked – then COVID hit

A woman and a man hold the hands of a little boy as they stand on the sand in front of a calm beach.
The Turiansky family say they are “stuck in limbo” in South Africa.(

Provided: Yarik Turianskyi

)

Government statistics for March showed that there were nearly 8,500 people with regional visas qualified for Australia who are stranded abroad.

Although there has been a furious public debate about the impact of the pandemic on international students, refugees and Australian citizens struggling to return home, this group of people feel utterly invisible and ignored.

Yarik Turianskyi says it simply.

The Ukrainian national lives in South Africa with his wife Judy and young son Christopher.

He worried about rampant crime and, more recently, rampant riots.

His wife already has family in Australia, and Mr Turianskyi – a political analyst who has read obsessively about Australian history and politics – said they had decided this was the right place to start a new life.

Towards the end of 2019, he also obtained a qualified regional visa and began planning a move to Adelaide with his family.

They sold their house, booked flights, and began to prepare for their lives.

Then COVID-19 hit.

Mr Turianskyi recalls that they were still releasing quotes from furniture movers when he heard the news that Australia had closed its borders.

They have been stuck ever since.

The wait went on for weeks, months, and now almost a year and a half.

The family had to move out of their home in July of last year and have since rebounded between rental properties.

“There is a lot of anxiety,” said Mr. Turianskyi.

“People talk about doomscrolling. For me it was compulsively checking Australian news every hour for a long time this year, looking at news sources and constantly trying to find some sort of clue. government on the opening date of the borders.

What makes the wait particularly distressing for many of these families is the Australian government’s lack of information.

Some fear that the border closure will jeopardize their chances of moving to Australia – perhaps forever.

Mr Turianskyi’s visa lasts only four years, and he must spend two of those years in a regional area – in this case, South Australia – if he wishes to apply for permanent residence.

At the moment, that seems impossible.

“The problem is that the visas we have are time-limited. And if we don’t do that by October of this year, that time is running out,” he said.

He knows it’s impossible for anyone in Australia to predict when the border might reopen, and the chances of him getting on a plane this year are very, very slim.

But given the devastation caused by COVID-19, he desperately wants the government to guarantee him that his visa will be extended, or even allow him to apply for permanent residence directly from South Africa.

He has made unsuccessful calls to the Home Office – as well as ministerial offices – to try to get more information about the possibility of extending his visa and whether he still has a route to residency.

“There has been no communication on when we can enter,” he said.

“We are watching the news and speeches very closely, and the government continues to move the goals of reopening the borders.”

“All we want is a good start”

In a statement, the Home Office said it had made concessions for some qualified visa holders who cannot travel to Australia, allowing them to apply for permanent residency from abroad and reducing the time it takes. ‘they must have spent living and working. in regional Australia.

A man holds the hand of a little boy who pulls a toy cart as they and a woman walk along a grassy path between brushwood.
Mr Turianskyi says his family has dedicated their life to Australia.(

Provided: Yarik Turianskyi

)

But Mr Turianskyi said those concessions were only offered to visa holders who had already made their first entry into Australia, leaving him and many others in the cold.

There is also the question of money.

Mr Turianskyi said he spent around $ 14,000 on visas, mandatory tests and migration agent fees to pave the way to Australia.

It’s a fair amount in Australia, but in South Africa it goes much further – comparable to an annual salary for a low to mid-level office worker.

Mr. Khan estimated that he spent nearly $ 25,000 on visas, plane tickets, administrative fees and agent fees.

The only way for him to raise money was to sell some of the precious jewelry his wife had received at their wedding.

The memory is painful and he dreads the idea of ​​losing the money.

“I still remember I went to the store, I sold the jewelry, I got the money, I bought the visa for the colony,” he says.

“I promised my wife that I would return the jewelry to her,” he said.

“She never asked for it. But I promised.”

But at the end of the day, their primary fixation isn’t on how much they’ve already spent.

Their main plea is just for information and clarity.

They want to be assured that their immigration window remains open, even if they still face a long wait.

Mr. Turianskyi’s long hours studying Australian society and politics gave him a keen sense of the ideals, both real and mythical, linked to the country’s history.

“I want to integrate quickly and have as much knowledge as possible,” he said.

“For me, an important theme in the books is that of a fair start – it’s rooted in history, in societal norms, even in the anthem.

“That’s what I would ask for. Just a good start. We have dedicated our lives to Australia, so all we want is a good start, according to our visas before the pandemic.”

Mr Khan said if Australia opens its arms, his family will hug him back.

“We are going to work hard,” he said.

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