‘Very anxious’: Stranded Australians fear new cuts to international arrivals

Stranded Australians risk losing their flights home amid talk of reducing caps on arrivals.

Stranded Australians risk losing their flights home amid talk of reducing caps on arrivals. Photo: Getty

Stranded Australians could be heartbroken again, amid a push from state leaders to dramatically slash international arrivals caps.

Queensland, Victoria and Western Australia premiers have argued too many people are being granted exemptions to leave the country and come home again, as the nation grapples with several outbreaks linked to the Delta variant.

It’s bad news for 34,000 stranded Australians like Tina Dawson, who has been in Japan since January last year.

After several failed attempts to return home to Albany in WA, she has finally secured a flight home, scheduled to depart next week.

“I’ve packed up my life here and sent a lot of it back to Australia,” Ms Dawson told The New Daily on Thursday.

“Until recently, I was feeling pretty confident that this time I’d make it. But now I’m very anxious. I need to get back to my son in Albany so I can support him. He’s the most important thing.”

Tina Dawson said she needs to return to Australia to support her son, 21. Photo: Tina Dawson

Ms Dawson’s fears are warranted.

On Thursday, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said he wanted to reduce the returned traveller cap by between 50 and 80 per cent for the next three to four months.

“It won’t be easy to lock some people out, but locking some people out is much better than locking everybody down,” he told reporters.

There have been at least 26 hotel quarantine leaks since the start of the pandemic, including six in June.

Claims that non-citizens are arriving in Australia

On Wednesday, Queensland Deputy Premier Steven Miles launched a blistering attack on the Morrison government’s international border policy.

He claimed data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics showed thousands of non-Australians were entering and leaving the country every month, while Australian citizens remain stranded overseas.

“ABS data – the federal government’s own data – confirms that thousands of people are being allowed to travel here who are not stranded Aussies,” Mr Miles said.

His key claims included:
  1. “Every week, 600 UK citizens arrive in Australia, 500 Chinese citizens, more than 300 Indonesians, more than 250 people from the United States, more than 200 people from the Philippines and 115 people from South Africa.”
  2. “Last month, 20,000 non-Australians arrived in Australia permitted by the Morrison government, half of those on short-term temporary visas: 3330 on temporary visitor visas, 4650 on other temporary visit visas.”

The Australian Border Force swiftly refuted Mr Miles’ comments as “misleading”.

On Thursday, ABF boss Michael Outram, who is responsible for managing our international border, went a step further on ABC radio and slammed Mr Miles’ claims as “fake”.

He slammed suggestions that immigration officials were carelessly letting tens of thousands of people leave the country, and floods of non-citizens in.

More than 51,000 outbound travel exemptions have been approved since the start of this year.

But Mr Outram said 52,000 applications had been refused.

“So the idea we’re just letting people travel on a whim is actually fake,” he told ABC radio on Thursday.

“We’re actually being really tough on this.”

What does the data say?

Enough political back and forth.

Let’s see what the data says.

ABS analysts believe Mr Miles sourced his data from their May 2021 Overseas Travel Statistics, Provisional report, released on July 16.

Although the bureau does not endorse the Queensland deputy premier’s phrasing, analysts believe his breakdown of international arrivals by country was based on the below data:

It appears a third party has calculated weekly data using the ABS monthly data, to conclude “600 UK citizens” and “500 Chinese citizens” were arriving to Australia every week.

As for Mr Miles’ claims that “20,000 non-Australians arrived in Australia”, ABS analysts pointed to the below data:

Adding the total number of visa holder arrivals for May 2021 equates to 20,000, as in “20,000 non-Australians” – a figure Mr Outram has disputed.

There were 4039 returning Australian citizens, permanent residents and immediate family members allowed into the country under the travel cap.

That compared to just 775 foreign nationals, who represented less than 16 per cent of weekly arrivals under the cap.

According to an exclusive investigation by Nine Newspapers, more than 10,000 travellers entered Australia in April to visit friends, go on holiday or for business trips.

The data, obtained by the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, was collated from incoming passenger cards and was designed to capture the main reason for the journey for visitors arriving and residents returning to Australia.

The government publishes the data online, and does not include travellers entering under the travel bubble with New Zealand.

But that claim was also rebuked by the ABF on Thursday.

“Data sourced from the Inbound Passenger Card (IPC) showing travellers enter Australia to visit friends, go on holiday or for business trips does not reflect the categories under which people are approved to arrive into the country,” the ABF said in a statement.

“The ‘Main Reason for Travel’ reported on is based on information passengers provide on the IPC.”

TND understands more than 10,000 Australians have been approved to leave the country on compassionate or compelling grounds since the start of this year.

Another 27,000 have been allowed overseas for study or work, with the remainder of exemptions granted to people employed in critical industries and businesses.

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