Why Are There So Many Aussies Stuck Overseas?

waiting at airport

Last week, Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack announced in a press conference in Wagga Wagga (of all places) that he was instructing states to allow up 2000 more Aussies per week back into the country.

This is designed to clear the backlog of some 25,000 Australians still overseas who can’t return home. Since July, only 4000 people per week have been allowed into the country, making it difficult for them to heed the Prime Minister and State Governors’ calls to return home.

On March 17, the PM made the call to instruct all citizens overseas to return home and recently responded to some of their current complaints in a letter appearing to blame them for their own difficulties in getting back.

Many online have expressed a lack of sympathy for these people as they should have had the foresight to come home sooner. Like most things of course, it’s not that simple. For starters, who knew it would be this difficult or the pandemic would go on for this long? There are many reasons why people haven’t been able to get back and not all of them can be pinned on the individual. We take a look at why people are still overseas.

Pexels / Skitterphoto

The caps

The biggest hurdle facing people stuck abroad is the nature of the caps on entry themselves. Those 4000 per week have been divided up roughly as 500 or so to Brisbane, Adelaide, and Perth, and 350 into Sydney with limited numbers allowed into Canberra and Darwin on a case-by-case basis.

Currently only three airlines are flying into Australia which means there are far fewer flights and those flights, because of the caps, carry far fewer people.

Most of the flights currently on offer are fully booked until December. When Aussies are able to get a ticket, flights are routinely cancelled as airlines cannot guarantee space at the terminal. In order to avoid being over the limit on passenger numbers, airlines have been bumping individuals off of flights unless they’re paying business or first class prices.

The cost

Currently one way tickets from London to Sydney are going for around $2000 if booked well in advance. That’s over twice their usual price and that’s just for economy. As we said above, economy tickets are usually the first to be cancelled and it’s only business class tickets that are likely to land you back home safe and sound. Those are going for around $4000, something that people stuck abroad with no job and no government support will struggle to pay.

The Guardian’s Full Story podcast recently featured a family of 7 who had saved for years to take their kids over to the UK and spend time with extended family over there. When they got caught up in the pandemic and couldn’t fly home, they quickly used up their holiday pay and their savings. In the story, the family were quoted $70,000 to bring all of them home on business class tickets that were more likely to get home. If they had wanted to fly home sooner than a few months, it would have cost them $113,000. This doesn’t even take into account the cost of quarantine once they land back in Aus.

The changes

The biggest overlooked issue is that many of the people who have found themselves overseas have jobs, leases, friends and maybe family and a life. At the start of the pandemic, it was hard to see what would happen as the situation played out and not everyone could simply up sticks and leave.

This doesn’t even take into account the fact that there were or are government-sanctioned reasons for leaving the country. There have been many reported cases of people who have had to go abroad to look after critically ill family members or even to attend funerals who have then found they have no way to get back home.

There is even a story of one family in the Netherlands who can’t travel as they’ve just had a baby who is currently stateless and without valid travel documents. They’re forced to wait while the clogged up air postal service brings them a passport for their child.

There are thousands of individual cases and reasons as to why people cannot return home and it is clear that the government has not done enough to help those in dire need. Hopefully the states will comply with the call to increase the caps and we will see that backlog start to ease soon.