Border Force is facing renewed criticism for its “unfathomable” handling of international arrivals, this time for overturning 16 earlier rejections on travel exemptions of a skilled worker seeking to fill critical shortages in Australia.
- A worker from the United Kingdom with critical skills has been allowed to come to Australia after being rejected 16 times
- Border Force initially rejected the applications, despite the man filling a critical skills shortage
- The ABF says each case is unique and decisions are reviewed regularly
It is the second time in a week the agency has reversed a decision to block a foreign worker from coming to Australia.
British physiotherapist David Woodward contacted the ABC after reading the case of Spana Nakarmi, a Nepalese aged care worker, who had been blocked from returning to Tasmania after rushing back to Kathmandu to look after her sick mother just as coronavirus took hold.
It both instances, the permission was granted after the ABC contacted the agency about the cases.
“I’m virtually not sleeping at all, because obviously with the time zone difference, and any kind of queries that come in, I’m having to deal with them in the middle of the night.
“The stress of that is also meaning that I’m not really sleeping in general anyway — so I’m physically and mentally exhausted with the whole thing.”
While Australia’s borders are closed to everyone but Australian citizens and permanent residents due to the coronavirus pandemic, the ABF can grant travel exemptions for others if they have critical skills deemed to be in the national interest.
Mr Woodward, who lives near the UK city of Liverpool, was found to have such skills and received a Temporary Skills Shortage visa, but was continually denied permission to travel and take advantage of that visa.
He was offered a job as a senior physiotherapist by Sydney-based Physio Inq a few months back, after the firm spent months unsuccessfully trying to fill the role. His partner also lives in Sydney.
The physio practice specialises in aged care, as well as services for people on the NDIS.
“It’s providing essential care for those people in the community who can’t access health care facilities, they can’t get to the hospital, they’ve not got the independence to do that, or they need complex care in their own homes because they can’t access it elsewhere,” Mr Woodward said.
The process of getting his qualifications recognised in Australia and applying for his working visa has cost more than $8,000.
Mr Woodward’s numerous applications for a travel exemption was submitted with a letter of support from his employer vouching for his credentials.
“David maintains an impressive clinical history and very unique skillset that was perfect for our client base and team,” Mr Woodward’s manager Irene Georgakopoulos wrote.
“With extensive experience in neurological physiotherapy and the highest level of clinical prescriber available in the UK, he is more qualified than any Australian trained physio can be given our education system here.
“We are very keen to see David join us as soon as possible. We are waitlisting clients by the day, some having received no services now since Feb[ruary] 2020. This is problematic, to say the least.”
While expressing relief Mr Woodward’s travel exemption had finally been granted, Ms Georgakopoulos said it was “unfathomable” that he had been repeatedly rejected without clear reasons as to why he did not meet the criteria.
She said the situation had forced her practice to consider whether going through the process of hiring foreign physiotherapists was worthwhile.
‘An utter shambles’
In a statement, the ABF said travel exemption guidelines were “regularly” revised.
“Each case is unique and is considered on the information provided in the application, and any supporting evidence that may be additionally provided,” a spokesperson told the ABC.
“Quality assurance reviews of decisions are being regularly undertaken to ensure decisions are made consistently.”
Government sources said the Department of Health also clarified its position to the ABF on which allied health workers it considered “critical” after the ABC enquired about Mr Woodward’s exemption.
Aged care was quietly added to the list of “critical skills” displayed on the ABF website last week.
Greens Senator Nick McKim described the ABF’s processing of travel exemptions as “an utter shambles”.
“We’re aware of a number of cases — physiotherapists, registered nurses who work in the aged care sector, which has a workforce under massive strain at the moment, and they simply are being rejected time after time and are unable to come back and assist their colleagues to respond to the crisis in our aged care sector.”
The ABC revealed the case of Hobart-based Ms Nakarmi earlier this week, who had been rejected nine times for a travel exemption to return to Tasmania.
She was approved after the ABC inquired with Border Force about her case.