Who counts as ‘immediate family’? Not your parents, the government says

Kateryna Dmytriyeva’s two-year-old son cries when he sees his grandmother on the phone and asks for “this lady” to go away because he doesn’t recognise the woman who cared for him for the first year of his life.

Pratheep Palanivel is facing a difficult decision about how to care for his two young children and continue his full-time job while his wife recovers from an operation, without any family support.

Kateryna Dmytriyeva’s son Victor no longer recognises his grandmother even though she cared for him for a year because she has been stuck overseas for 14 months.Credit:Sam Mooy

They are among millions of Australians with parents overseas who want certainty over when they might be able to see their family again.

Nearly half of Australia’s population were either born overseas or have parents who were.

Yet the definition of “immediate family” considered for exemptions to travel into or out of Australia during the pandemic covers the spouses and dependent children of Australian citizens and permanent residents, but not their parents.

More than 61,000 people have now signed a petition to the Federal Parliament calling for this to change.

Mr Palanivel, from Melbourne, has had three applications for his parents to travel from India rejected.

“At the moment, everything is in the dark. We don’t know what’s happening. When are you going to see someone?” the Melbourne man said.

“Every day you see a message or an article, which basically says all Australian borders are closed forever. And it just drains you emotionally and mentally.”

He pointed to last week’s social media post by Prime Minister Scott Morrison saying he hadn’t been able to see his family on his birthday, two days after the budget.

“He was not able to see his daughters and wife for a day and that affected him. But we as a family, we haven’t seen them for the last 18 months,” Mr Palanivel said.

If the situation doesn’t change soon, his family will consider whether they’re better off packing up their lives and leaving Australia.

Ms Dmytriyeva’s mother looked after her son Victor during 2019 at their Sydney home but now hasn’t seen him for more than 14 months. She’s had five travel applications rejected.

“She had been living with us for more than a year, and she left for a few weeks in March 2020 [to go to Ukraine]. And she never returned,” Ms Dmytriyeva said.

“My child … cannot even recognise her on the video call… He just says, ‘switch the phone off, I don’t know this lady’ — but he spent his first year of life with her.”

Both insist they and others who have shared their stories are not asking for open slather on travel or for preferential treatment, just for family to be treated as such.

They’re frustrated and annoyed by stories of film stars, sports figures and business people arriving with family in tow.

They want the government to lay out clear directions on when Australians can expect the international borders to open again as well. State and business leaders have also called for a clear timeline on reopening.

The federal budget included an assumption the country would reopen in mid-2022 but Mr Morrison has made it clear this is not government policy. The latest Resolve Political Monitor survey found voters overwhelmingly backed the Prime Minister in keeping borders closed.

“We know that there should be safety measures but we need a roadmap out of this,” Ms Dmytriyeva said.

“We just need to have something like a set of rules to comply with. Because at the moment, there is no set of rules.”

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