Temporary visa holders in Australia are urging the federal government to widen travel exemptions to include them.
From 6 June, Australian citizens have been able to apply for a travel exemption to have their children in India brought home to Australia.
Exemptions allow for the parents in Australia to travel to India to collect the child, or for an adult guardian to accompany the child to Australia.
Temporary visa holder and accountant Sangeeta, who only wants to be known by her first name, says she and her husband have been separated from their son in India for 18 months due to travel restrictions.
Thirty-one weeks pregnant, Sangeeta is expecting her second child on 5 September.
She told SBS News being being parted from her son, Angad, has been hard.
“There are lot of things in one time going in mind. We have to go to job.
“We have to manage the doctor’s appointment at the moment (with) my situation (of pregnancy). We both (my husband and I) have to work hard. And on top of it – when your family is not with you. Everything is more difficult.”
Both Sangeeta and her husband, Amit Saini, have been in Australia for four years. Five months ago, they relocated from Sydney to Darwin.
Apart from Amit Saini’s brother in Sydney, the couple have no family in Australia.
“Emotionally, you want your family here with you.”
The last time the couple saw their son was for his seventh birthday when the family went to Punjab on 19 January 2020.
Travel restrictions prevented his return to Australia with his grandparents.
“Don’t ask about the mental health impacts. We are alone here and every day I am missing him. I make time – midnight here or early morning, whenever he is available to talk to me. If we are not talking, I can see him (on video call).
“And it is a very hard and painful situation for us not to see him in person.”
She said she would like the process to begin for when she can start planning to be reunited with her son here in Australia,
“I understand there is a backlog (of people applying for exemptions), but if we (temporary visa holders) could get more certainty on a path forward that would provide some comfort.”
“It is not a fair deal for everyone. If the government grants exemptions for some people, then grant for others in the same situation. Otherwise, stop granting exemptions for everyone.”
Neha Sandu has been helping to moderate social media groups joined by other Indian parents in Australia seeking to reconnect with their children in India.
She said too many families – including those on temporary visas – have been unsuccessfully applying for months for travel exemptions to bring their children in India to Australia.
“Some of the temporary visa holders have received a rejection on their application with no reason provided.
“They are not sure whether they should apply again or wait.
“There are so many families in distress, there should be a clear policy and pathway for families – including temporary visa holders – to apply for exemptions.”
Ms Sandu she is aware of between 30 and 35 children who have come back to Australia from India, after the travel exemptions were granted.
“It is very disappointing, whether the visa status is citizen, permanent resident or temporary resident – the emotions of the parent are the same.
“And it is the same issue for temporary visa holders also. They are living here. They are working here. So they need their children to be reunited with them.”
During Senate Estimates in June, it was revealed at least 209 Australian kids were stranded in India.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said it is working with families to ensure the return of “vulnerable Australians”, adding that each case is considered individually.
“DFAT’s highest priority at this time is helping vulnerable Australians overseas.
“DFAT is working with families in India and Australia to ensure the travel of children is undertaken safely. Each family is assisted on a case-by-case basis.”
Almost 22,600 Australians have returned from India since March 2020, with 8,000 assisted on 50 government-facilitated flights.