Almost 19,000 Australians remain stranded overseas, a senate committee has been told.
The Select Committee on COVID-19 was told on Thursday 18,800 Australians overseas have indicated they want to return home.
Almost 3000 are in a situation described by the Department of Foreign Affairs as “vulnerable”, whether it be personal, financial or medical, the inquiry was told.
At the moment, almost 4000 Aussies are returning home every week.
Many of those stranded – 7500 – remain in India, while large numbers are also stuck in the Philippines, South Africa and Vietnam.
The Federal Government has organised about 64 repatriation flights, with 45 of the flights bringing back Australians from India alone, the committee was told.
The situation has been worsened by caps on incoming overseas arrivals. The caps were implemented in mid-July, and this month they were extended to October 24.
Currently Sydney is taking the bulk of overseas arrivals, with 350 passengers allowed to touch down each day, compared to Perth which takes 525 per week, Brisbane and Adelaide which are both capped at 500 per week and Hobart and Melbourne, which are not accepting international arrivals at all.
Australia is the only democratic country in the world to restrict the amount of citizens allowed to return, or to disallow its citizens to leave.
As a result, thousands of Aussies are stranded, many on expired or expiring visas.
These people have no work prospects and in many cases, nowhere to live, despite booking flights home months ago.
Insult was added to injury this week when South Australia announced a plan to bring back 300 final year university students from South East Asia next month.
The international students will fly from Singapore to Adelaide in early September in what is seen as a test run for bringing back international students across the country.
They will be subject to hotel quarantine, which is expected to be paid for by the students or universities welcoming them back.
Through a Facebook post from the Australian High Commission in the UK, those still trying to get home have been asked to register their intent. On the first day the online form was available, the website crashed under the heavy demand.
In the comments, many were furious to have just found out their return had been deemed less important than the return of students from overseas.
“What are you doing to address the fact that international students are being given a priority entry when Australian Citizens can’t even get into the country,” Kathleen Frost wrote.
“Will the student arrival numbers be additional to the international arrivals caps or will they be taking the places that should be prioritised for people trying to get home?
“If they are having their own allocation, what is the point of caps in the first place? Let the citizens of Australia into their home country.”