Jonathan Powell from Sydney’s northern beaches met his partner Luciana de Morais from Brazil at a concert in the United States.
She was granted her 309 provisional migrant partner visa in February but Brazil closed its borders before she could leave and flights were cancelled.
Ms de Morais has booked flights with LatAm – now refunded – and Emirates and has been bumped off six flights. She is on stand-by for several flights to make it to Australia before her visa lapses in February.
A spokeswoman for Alan Tudge, the Acting Minister for Immigration, said “flexibility is available” and if anyone was nearing the end of their visa expiry date and could not travel to Australia because of the pandemic, they should contact the Department of Home Affairs or the closest embassy to discuss their situation.
While the department cannot formally extend the entry deadline, it can provide a letter giving permission for the visa not to be cancelled at the border – but only after the visa has already expired. It is understood the department has been providing a number of these letters during the pandemic.
Mr Powell said the couple had been advised about the possibility of the letter but given there was no guarantee, they would have to keep trying to get flights if possible. While the couple found being apart “extremely difficult”, Ms de Morais was safe and would be happy to wait if she could get the first-entry date extended, especially given the thousands of stranded Australians trying to get home who also needed flights.
South African Kate Leff is married to Australian Zack Dwyer and holds a 100 permanent migrant partner visa. The couple and their three-year-old daughter are in Thailand because Ms Leff had to apply for her visa from outside Australia, while Mr Dwyer was not permitted to work in South Africa.
Ms Leff must enter Australia by January to activate her visa but she has a hospitality job in Thailand and the couple is worried about the prospect of unemployment in Australia, as well as spending all their savings on over-priced flights and quarantine hotels.
She wrote to the Australian Embassy in South Africa outlining their circumstances and asking for more time. She was told she risked visa cancellation if she did not enter Australia by the deadline, though she was advised she might be able to obtain the letter if she let the visa expire.
“It took a good three years and a hell of a lot of money to get to the point where we are now to finally be granted a partner visa and it would be really devastating to lose that,” Ms Leff said. “It’s very stressful for our family and there’s just no certainty of anything.”
Mr Dwyer added: “It just seems a little bit backwards to me that you’ve got the government putting flight restrictions and caps in place, because they don’t want too many people traveling home and at the same time, you’ve got the department expecting people to come home to activate a visa.”
Caitlin Fitzsimmons is a senior writer for The Sun-Herald, focusing on social affairs.