Common misconceptions

If you’ve ever called Australia home, this could happen to you

Common misconceptions – answers to FAQs

Stranded Aussies often hear questions that suggest that few people back home understand how many Australians are stranded overseas. It also appears that many who are safely within Australia’s borders have trouble understanding the circumstances of those who are shut out.

Why didn’t you come back when the government told you to?

Why do the numbers stranded overseas keep growing?

  • At any one time, up to a million Australians reside overseas.  
  • During 2019, between 800,000 and one million Australian citizens would exit Australia per month.
  • When the travel ban was imposed in March 2020, the government advised tourists to return. It advised those established overseas to shelter in place. 
  • Masses of flights from March onward were cancelled and airports closed.
  • It was not possible, for example, to leave many parts of Europe or Asia during lockdowns and with border closures and mass flight cancellations.
  • Upwards of half a million Australian citizens and PRs did rush home in March, however a large number found their return tickets cancelled. Some of those are still stranded, their tickets having been cancelled multiple times.
  • Up to one million Australians living overseas have homes, leases, businesses, pets, kids in school and the like. It was not possible to leave their jobs and homes and flee to Australia at short notice. There were not enough flights in any case.
  • The federal government’s travel ban prohibits all but essential overseas travel. No one has been permitted to leave for tourism since March 2020. Since April 2020, however, the Australian government has issued over 100,000 essential travel exemptions, allowing citizens and residents to depart on compassionate grounds or other essential reasons. Naturally, many of those now need to return.
  • The circumstances of those living overseas change. Many lost their jobs during the pandemic. For others, their contracts have ended or their visas have expired. They now need to return too. 
  • The Australian government cut its flight caps in July just as international travel routes were opening and other countries, like New Zealand, were boosting repatriations in an effort to reunite families and couples and to facilitate essential travel.
  • The Australian government advice was that countries may close their borders and that airports may close and routes may be cancelled. At no point did the Australian government disclose that it had no intention of developing any contingency to ensure Australians could return to their home country. 
  • When imposing the travel ban and caps the Australian government did not disclose that it would leave it to foreign airlines to determine who could enter Australia and that priority would be given to the wealthy over citizens and PRs in increasingly desperate circumstances.

Why don’t you help keep Australia safe and stay overseas?

No other nation has locked out as many of its compatriots for as long as Australia has. The notion that protecting onshore Australians can only be done by endangering Australians abroad, and doing so for a protracted period, is false and extremely harmful. It goes against WHO advice on the new coronavirus variants, that explicitly recommends making repatriation a priority. 

Countries like Taiwan and New Zealand prove that it’s possible to protect the health and wellbeing of their people both at home and abroad. Even a poor country like Vietnam made major efforts since early in the pandemic to assist citizens’ return.

Australia has left its citizens in countries where their visas have expired, their options for onward travel are nil, they do not have work permits, are not entitled to healthcare or welfare payments, and cannot purchase health or travel insurance. Some are now homeless. Some are in poor health or have disabilities. Some are separated from their partners, spouses, children and pets. Some have lost jobs in Australia because the caps prevented them from getting back. The extent of the Australian government’s assistance to them has been to advise them to borrow money or seek help from overseas charities.

We also believe that denying a person’s right to return to their home country is a breach of human rights covenants that Australia is a party to. 

Why should taxpayers fund repatriation flights for stranded Aussies?

They don’t. While Qantas repatriation flights are organised by the federal government, the fares are between $2,200 and $8,700 one way from the UK to Australia.

Australia has only provided repatriation flights for about 13,000 stranded Australians since the start of the pandemic. Repatriation flights usually carry around 200 passengers. Stranded Aussies find these flights are fully booked within minutes of being announced. Those who fly report that first and business class sections are filled to capacity.

Those who return also pay up to $3000 per person for mandatory hotel quarantine.

Efforts by those stranded to organise their own charter flights have been denied by the federal government. One such group that made it home were met with strong resistance from Australian authorities.

Stranded Aussies have not asked for a free ride, or for repatriation flights. They want the government to expand quarantine and lift the flight caps so they can use the commercial tickets they’ve already paid for.

My friend came and left Australia with no trouble. Is it really that difficult to come back?

The arrivals caps limit inbound commercial flights to 30 to 50 passengers. Similar to the repatriation flights, first and business class sections are usually full with passengers from Los Angeles to Sydney currently paying at least $23,000 per person one way,  if they can get a seat.

Stranded Australians are also subject to predatory travel companies and operators who sell airline tickets for flights that don’t exist. Many who’ve bought tickets, including direct from airlines, that were then cancelled, have waited months in some instances for a refund. Some of those stranded have ended leases and shipped their belongings to Australia only to find their flight cancelled and no certainty of when they may be able to travel, often for months.

Routes home can be circuitous, with some passengers, including those with small children, taking multiple legs and several days to complete the journey home.

If state governments don’t have enough quarantine spaces available – for example because they’re suddenly used for state border control, as in Melbourne, Perth or Brisbane – passengers can be bumped as late as checking-in at the airport for their flight.

The federal government also requires a negative PCR coronavirus test pre-flight. Stranded Aussies have travelled to a distant city to get their booked flight, taken the test, but were bumped when the result hasn’t come back in time. Those who test positive are left behind, usually without insurance or any entitlement to healthcare through local systems, without options for onward travel, and having to find themselves accommodation while infectious.

Families have a difficult time returning as they may only be able to book seats for one or two members of the family – including on repatriation flights.

Stranded Aussies may have no choice of city that they fly into, and find themselves having to undergo quarantine a second time, or being stranded in a state other than their home state due to capricious state border closures.

All of these factors have caused great hardship, distress and expense to thousands trying to get home.

Why should I care, I’m not stranded?

Unless you’ve never travelled overseas, it could have been you too, or a loved one of yours.

Prior to the pandemic, nearly a million Australians would leave Australia each month for a variety of reasons. There are better questions to ask. For example, why begrudge people their right to freedom of movement? That right is enshrined in the United Nations Human Rights treaties. Are you comfortable with Australian governments endangering tens of thousands of people, breaching their human rights and causing them serious hardship, while using the false and misleading excuse that doing so keeps those within the borders safe?