A Melbourne family is looking at hiring a private jet to fly from Australia to New Zealand in a desperate bid to secure an Australian visa.
Chinese couple Dong Liu and Lixia Wang, both in their 60s, want to settle permanently in Australia with their son, Can Liu, his wife, Julie Jin, and their two-year-old granddaughter.
But because they applied for their parent visas overseas, they need to be abroad when they are issued.
The federal government announced last year it would waive this requirement during the pandemic for some visas, in a move it celebrated as “common sense”.
But the Coalition has refused to extend the concession to more categories, including parent visas, leaving people feeling pressured to leave Australia and risk catching COVID-19 abroad.
“I’m so desperate,” said Ms Jin.
“I will do whatever to meet government requirements.”
The couple has reached the final stage of the application process and paid tens of thousands of dollars for the visas.
Ms Jin said an official from the Home Affairs Department last year told her in-laws they needed to leave Australia within three months to activate the visa, or risk it being revoked.
Other families have also told the ABC they have been pressured to fly abroad to activate their visas.
The number of parent visas issued is capped, with only 3,730 approved last financial year and wait times stretching back many years.
“The whole situation is so hard on them,” Ms Jin said.
“They just really want to … just to stick together as a family.”
Ms Jin has begun arranging an $88,000 trans-Tasman flight to allow her in-laws and others in a similar situation to leave Australia without languishing for weeks abroad and undertaking hotel quarantine on return.
She believes the flight would be able to land at Auckland Airport and passengers allowed into the terminal on 24-hour New Zealand transit visas before flying back.
In that time, officials from the Australian Department of Home Affairs could issue the permanent residency visas.
Ms Jin admitted to thinking the idea was “crazy” at first but said she was determined to secure her family’s future “no matter what it takes”.
‘Just change the rules’
Federal Labor MP Julian Hill plans to introduce a private member’s bill when Parliament returns next month allowing all visas to be issued onshore during the pandemic.
“Families should not have to be Googling, ‘how do I hire a private jet,'” he said.
“This is not a tin pot council; this is not a banana republic: it’s the government of Australia.
“The minister should just change the rules so the visas can be granted onshore and stop this nonsense.”
Former senior immigration department official Abul Rizvi said it would be simple to extend the exemption to other groups.
“It has no cost to the government, it has no cost to the taxpayer, it saves a quarantine place, and it saves unnecessary expense and risk for the people involved,” he said.
“The government should simply get on and do this.”
Australian permanent residents can access many services unavailable to short-term visa holders.
In a statement, the Home Affairs Department said applicants for visas, such as parent visas, were being advised of ways they could remain in Australia during the pandemic.
On Thursday night, after the ABC raised their case with the Immigration Minister’s office, Mr Liu and Ms Wang were granted six-month tourist visas.
The department on Wednesday told the Melbourne family their parent visa application would now not be revoked if they did not travel abroad during the pandemic.
Despite this, Ms Jin said she was still investigating private jet hire.
Ms Jin and her husband Can Liu were expecting their second child in August and said they needed his parents in Australia to support them at that time.