Wed. Dec 1st, 2021

It was on January 7, 2020 at Soekarno Hatta International Airport in Jakarta, Indonesia.

I remember making a group hug with my mom and two sisters while my dad and my other sister almost participated in a video call.

We were all in tears.

I moved from Lampung province in Indonesia to Australia on a student visa – and while studying, I started working for ABC’s Asia Pacific Newsroom.

“Maybe we can all visit you in Melbourne at some point. Me, your father and Lionel (my youngest sibling),” she joked.

All three of my sisters frowned.

We are a big family and it would be expensive to get everyone on a plane to Australia.

When we finally said goodbye, we thought we would see each other again in 11 months. But almost 22 months later, I still have not seen my family in person.

If we go, we can not return

When the government announced the reopening of international borders, fully vaccinated Australian citizens and permanent residents could have started planning their vacations or trips to see their loved ones.

But temporary (student) visa holders, like myself, cannot travel. Instead, we must live with the Prime Minister’s “not yet”.

When the international border was closed on March 20 last year, we can go home to see our families, but if we do, we can not come back.

For me, the decision to leave Australia was hardly an option as many things would be at stake: school, work and the possibility of a longer stay.

Even my own parents have advised against doing so.

Some of my closest friends who are in the same boat with visas have lost loved ones to COVID-19 but have had to mourn for a long time for very similar reasons.

I have read so many sad news stories about the impact of border closure: wives being separated from their husbands, children growing up without their parents, and international students facing mental health issues from online learning or graduation without ever set foot in Australia.

By March this year, as many as 120,000 students enrolled in Australian educational institutions were stuck abroad, up from 66,000 in July 2020.

More than 90,000 offshore students have decided to postpone their enrollment. Some of my friends did this in the hope that they could finish their education in Australia. But many could not bear the uncertainty, so they decided to continue studying online abroad until they finished their education.

Fortunately, the things I have missed in the last two years were happy occasions – like celebrating birthdays in person, graduations, Chinese New Year and Christmas celebrations.

A plane shot directly from below.

Also how my 12 year old brother has gotten much taller and has a heavier voice that I can barely recognize now.

My parents never said it out loud, but I could feel their guilt over not being there to help when I moved to Adelaide. It’s one of the biggest decisions I’ve made in my life after living in Melbourne for over five years.

Fortunately, they can witness and hear about all my achievements at work or at school on screen.

Both of my parents did not have the opportunity to work in their dream job or go to their desired universities as they were my age due to financial reasons, so career development is a big deal for them.

Both have said they cannot wait to return to Australia. Dad has asked if Adelaide Airport has international flights as he can not wait to get here.

International students in limbo

Over 1.5 million temporary visa holders are still in limbo – and they are not mentioned in Australia’s reopening plan.

More than 20,000 temporary visa holders have signed a petition calling on the government to open the border to them.

“We work here, pay our taxes, receive double vaccinations and contribute to society,” the petition said.

“It is discriminatory to prevent us from visiting our friends and families after almost two years apart.”

In his letter to Bali’s head of tourism last week, Bali’s Consul General Anthea Griffins said the country was “reopening its border to all foreign nationals, including Indonesians, as soon as possible”.

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But until this point, the Home Office spokesman said temporary visa holders would still require a travel exemption to enter Australia unless they are in an exempt category.

“We will continue to look for opportunities to open up as soon as possible to our partners in the region, including with Singapore and our Pacific family,” the spokesman said.

So I do not feel hope that the international borders will be open to us, international students, from other countries.

I understand that the federal government prioritises the return of Australians who have been stuck abroad – but many of us have also longed to see our loved ones, especially after everything we have been through during the pandemic.

I remember waking up every morning hoping there would be no bad news about my family in Indonesia during the second wave of June last year, where we constantly saw posts about someone who passed away because of COVID- 19 on Facebook and Instagram. And I know I’m not the only one.

I can not deny the fact that most of us are in constant fear of seeing our loved ones for the last time since the pandemic began.

Our decisions to come and live in Australia as migrants have their own consequences. And being away from our family is one of them.

Many of us have worked very hard to survive in this country during the pandemic, while some international students abroad have spent thousands of dollars on their course in hopes of landing in Australia before their time runs out.

I really hope that all the sacrifices we have made for this country will be considered and the decision to open the border to us will take effect as soon as possible.

I can not wait to see my family again, hug them and share our favorite meals while I drink our favorite drinks (bubble tea and coffee). I have missed laughing at each other’s dry jokes and doing our most favorite and simple family activity – going to the movies together!

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