Jeongyeong Lee and his wife Sunhee He has been thinking a lot about their firstborn daughter’s name.
- Temporary residents like Mrs Han are in doubt about when they can return to Australia
- Some couples can not wait to introduce their babies to their families abroad for the first time
- Grandparents have also been separated from their young grandchildren by state border restrictions
Her English name is Honey, but her Korean name is Nagyeol Lee – Na means “beautiful” and Gyeol means “decision”, Mr Lee said.
“She’s literally our most beautiful decision,” he told ABC.
But Mr. Lee has never been able to hold her in his arms.
“It’s almost a year and a half and I’ve never seen my baby.”
The couple moved to Australia about five years ago and felt an affinity with Tasmania’s lush natural landscape and its “very friendly” people, so they decided to make it their home.
At the beginning of the pandemic, they thought it would be best for Mrs Han to return to South Korea to give birth – COVID-19 had affected their finances and she could be cared for by her family there.
But like many couples, they could not foresee how long international border closures would keep them separate.
He saw his wife’s body change during her pregnancy over Facetime, and their daughter was born in August 2020.
“I still remember the day my baby was born, I cried a lot,” he said.
“I can see my baby growing [on] Facetime. She is growing really fast.
Mr. Lee works as a chef at a Sandy Bay café in Hobart’s south. He and his wife both have temporary 485 visas and they hope to apply for permanent residence when she is able to return.
He was initially happy when the news came that the border would reopen for international travel, but temporary residents like his wife have been left out of Australia’s reopening plan.
So far, overseas nationals and permanent residents can return to some Australian states and territories without having to be quarantined if fully vaccinated.
But temporary residents must be exempted from traveling.
“It’s hard to explain my feelings … I still feel guilty about my family,” said Mr. Lee.
For now, he is trying to do what he can to build a life for his young family, remains positive and hopes that he can be reunited with his wife and child as soon as possible.
A statement from the Australian Border Force, which did not comment on Ms Hans’ individual case, said the government “continues to plan to reopen our borders to fully vaccinated skilled workers and international students in the near future, with international tourists to follow”, but has not provided a timeline.
“All foreign nationals who are not automatically exempt from Australia’s travel restrictions must obtain a pre – travel waiver,” the spokesman said.
“Rationale for applying for a waiver includes persons who provide critical skills or can demonstrate compelling and compassionate circumstances.”
‘A Love Actually moment’
Cheryl Rippon-Dootson and her wife Lea are excited that their daughter will finally meet her grandparents in the UK next month.
Their daughter Skylar turns two in January.
“It’s time you did not come back. They have missed so many milestones.”
Mrs Rippon-Dootson’s parents planned to come to Melbourne in March 2020 to help, but then the pandemic hit.
With international travel restrictions now eased, the trio booked a flight (and rebooked it after it was suddenly canceled) to the UK just before Christmas.
“I actually cried [travel] agents on the phone, just in sheer relief that I would still be able to get there, “she said.
Mrs Rippon-Dootson, who recently became an Australian citizen but originally from Liverpool, said she had tried not to raise her hopes too high – with COVID rules moving the finish line several times.
But the excitement builds up to a family Christmas and celebration of Skylar’s second birthday together.
Mrs. Rippon-Dootson in particular cannot wait for her father to meet her daughter.
“[There are] as many manners of him as she has, and yet she has never met him in person, “she said.
First step and lost milestones
Victorian grandmother Kerrie Clarence considers herself luckier than many others, but she is still catching up.
“I really wanted to be a nanny for a long time,” she said, adding that she had been secretly collecting a lot of baby clothes and toys ever since her son got married.
She was able to meet her first grandchild, Austin, who was born in December 2019 in Adelaide before the pandemic.
So when her granddaughter Annabelle was born in April this year, there was a window of casual travel between states, so she was lucky enough to meet her too.
But after missing much of their young lives, she counts down the days until she can be reunited with them at the end of this month.
“They are growing and changing so fast in the first few months that we want to get to know them again,” she said.
Although they missed Austin’s first birthday, “she got a really good milestone” when she visited shortly after.
“We’ve missed pretty much everything else, but it was something I’ll always stick to.”
Ms Clarence has been able to have breakfast via video call with her grandchildren every day – another thing she’s grateful for, even if it’s not a substitute for the real thing.
“You’re not going to cuddle them, you’re not going to really get to know them … I have not been able to look after them,” she said.
“Sometimes we want videos and I just want to burst into tears because I just want to be with them.
“It’s very hard to see them and not be able to touch them.”
It’s an experience she knows is not unique, and it’s one that fundamentally reshapes people’s priorities.
“It affects people in a very real way. Besides being sad, it affects where they want to live,” she said.
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