'We Invested Everything': Couple Who Live, Work In Australia Stranded In India, Facing Homelessness
Ankur Kapoor and Prachi Aggarwal are "absolutely desperate" after being stranded in India for two months without work and no prospect of when they'll be able to return to their Melbourne home.
The married couple has been living out of their suitcases in India since Australia shut its borders in March.
They'd flown to India to visit their elderly parents on March 6 and had been planning to return two weeks later until news of the travel ban left them in "a panic".
"What came as a shock was the sudden closure of borders for non-Australians," Kapoor told 10 daily.
"We didn't even get 24 hours to reach Australia and a direct flight from India is at least a 16-hour journey," he added.
"It was absolutely impossible for us to board a flight and reach Australia by the 9 pm deadline."
Since March, the husband and wife have applied more than seven times for an exemption to the travel ban.
They've been sent several rejection letters claiming the pair do not have a "compassionate or compelling" reason to return.
The couple holds Temporary Skilled Shortage visas and moved to Australia last July "with hopes of a better future".
They say they've done everything to prove they're not a health risk to the Australian public and would happily foot the bill for 14 days in self-isolation.
In April, Kapoor even got tested for coronavirus, but his negative test result wasn't enough to sway the government.
Nor has the fact the pair are both highly-skilled and their qualifications are in high demand in Australia.
In Melbourne, Kapoor worked as a software assets manager in the energy industry, and Aggarwal was employed as an information system auditor in the mining sector.
But the pandemic has put them both out of work, with their companies claiming they are unable to work abroad due to taxation issues.
"We still want to work. We worked really hard when we were in Australia to say we're skilled, to prove our capabilities, it feels so distressing that we've been kicked out of our homes," Aggarwal told 10 daily.
As a condition of their visas, if the pair are unemployed for 60 days their visas become void.
While the couple is currently on a "sabbatical "with their employers, they fear this could change if there is no clear roadmap of when they can return to Australia.
Apart from the stresses of uncertainty, they say they are confronting a dire financial situation.
For two months, the couple has gone without income and is struggling to pay $1466 a month in rent, as well as their utility bills.
With their lease expiring in August, they are concerned the more than six thousand dollars they've invested in furniture and setting up a home in Australia will go to waste.
"We have an apartment in Melbourne's CBD. It's a very costly area and very costly to survive," Kapoor said.
"Together we pay $5,000 in taxes but when there is an unforeseen circumstance like this, the government refuses you," he added.
"It's heartbreaking, we did everything, we invested everything."
They claim the lack of communication from the government has also taken a dramatic psychological toll on the pair.
"We're facing extreme distress at the moment," Kapoor said.
"My wife has started to see a GP in India for counselling because she's absolutely heartbroken by the current situation we're in," he added.
It's been two months and we haven't laughed. We haven't shared a drink together.
He says the pair wake up every day hoping the government will follow the example of other nations, like Canada, who have allowed temporary residents to return.
The couple is in a Facebook group of more than 900 members who all claim they're facing similar situations. Some say they've been rejected up to 30 times for an exemption to the ban.
More than 14,000 people have also signed a petition asking the government to allow skilled visa holders to return to Australia.
Tabling this petition in the Senate last week, Greens Senator Nick McKim said: "there are currently thousands of temporary visa holders that are stranded overseas as a result of the travel bans put in place by the Commonwealth Government."
"These people live in Australia, they work in Australia, they pay taxes in Australia. But there are no criteria against which applications are assessed and many people do not understand why they have been banned," he added.
A spokesperson at Home Affairs told 10 daily as of May 5 the Australian Border Force Commissioner has granted exemptions to 73 percent of applications.
They said 1,170 exemptions have been granted to people to come to Australia based on compassionate reasons and 220 were refused.
"To limit the spread of COVID-19 in the Australian community, from 20 March 2020 all foreign nationals who do not meet the travel exemptions will not be allowed to enter Australia," a spokesperson at Home Affairs said.
"Australian permanent residents, and immediate family members of Australian citizens and permanent residents, are exempt from the travel restrictions," they said.
The spokesperson said the Australian Border Force (ABF) Commissioner has the authority to grant exemptions, including on compassionate grounds.
They added, "decisions to grant exemptions on compassionate grounds are made on a case-by-case basis and must be balanced against the Government’s intent for imposing the travel ban and the health risks posed to the Australian community by international travellers."
Registered Migration Agent Miki Lim told 10 daily the majority of her workload during the pandemic has been assisting the spouses of Australian citizens who are stuck overseas.
But Lim says temporary migrants are "some of the applicants who are the most nervous offshore".
"They were a hair away from starting their permanent futures in Australia and now are stuck waiting for an indeterminate amount of time," she said.
"There is no answer for them because we don't know when it will be decided that it is safe for borders to re-open because it depends on the global response to the virus."
Lim said as there is "no blanket rule for compassionate circumstances, a common-sense approach must be taken by applicants to consider if their travel is necessary at this time and if it is, how they intend to evidence it well."
"We have to consider the government has a duty to the public to spend 'our tax dollars' wisely, so they need to be making decisions that would pass the pub test," she said.
"For our health and safety as citizens, the government has to be responsible for making decisions in the best interests of Australian citizens at this time."
However, Kapoor says the only thing the couple request from the government is for them "to listen" to the stories of temporary migrants and "give us a plan to return."
Aggarwal says the pair do not have a home in India and she cannot fathom "how the feeling of homelessness is not compassionate enough" for the government to grant them an exemption.
"We have established our home and we have ties to Australia. We've invested in Australia and we set up a life there," she said.
"They should at least give us some exemption and certain criteria so we can return to our home," she added.
"It's so scary. We don't know what's going to happen."
"If I'm not able to return, will I still have a job? Will my visa conditions still stay? I just don't know."
10 daily has contacted Immigration Minister Alan Tudge for comment.
Contact Eden at firstname.lastname@example.org