By JOHN MOYLE
When Australia reopened its borders for travel in February 2022, by June of that year 118,000 Australians had headed off to Bali.
This was a much smaller number than the 1.4 million Aussies who had holidayed on the Island of the Gods in 2019, but made for a good start in a world where COVID was still rampant.
That year also saw some 48,434 Indonesians apply for visas to Australia, making up 3.5 per cent of our total visa applications.
Among those Indonesian applications were two tourist visas applied for by Andre and Yudi, a gay Javanese couple who live in Bali.
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Andre has worked for six years with the same international insurance company and Yudi has been with one of Bali’s top real estate companies for the same amount of time.
Excited by Sydney WorldPride 2023, in late 2022 they applied for tourist visas to the Australian Embassy in Jakarta using an agent and providing proof of bank accounts with over $A10,000, letters from their respective employers, letters from parents and proof that they had travelled to over 10 countries in Europe and Japan over a 10-year period without overstaying visas.
Yet, days later, came an email from the Australian Embassy denying their request.
Undaunted, they went online with new visa requests, which were also denied, with an embassy employee writing “I find that you have not demonstrated sufficiently strong employment, economic, family or other commitments in Indonesia that would be sufficient incentive for you to return to Indonesia,” citing clause 600.211 in Schedule 2 of the Migration Regulations.
This application was further supported by a letter from an Australian citizen offering to sponsor them.
In his sponsorship letter, Daniel Rainsford wrote “If for some unforeseen reason, they require assistance I am certainly willing and able to do so.”
A spokesperson for the Department of Home Affairs said “Without pre-empting a decision, a new application is more likely to be successful when additional information is provided to satisfy the delegate that a genuine temporary stay is intended.”
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As WorldPride neared, on January 23, 2023, they lodged a third online application, this time with proof of a hotel booking for Sydney. This application was also refused.
A spokesperson for Denpasar-based gay rights organisation GAYa Dewata Foundation said “We know that the department in Australia is very strict, and we have friends here with the same case and they don’t give any reason why the visa is refused.”
Adam Byrnes is the principal immigration lawyer for Sydney legal firm Visa and Citizenship Lawyers, which specialises in helping overseas gay and lesbian persons with visa applications to Australia.
“I don’t believe that these refusals have anything to do with sexuality,” Byrnes said. “Since the borders opened there have been a lot of visa applications and unfortunately there have been a lot of refusals.”
This stand by the Department of Home Affairs to throttle Indonesian tourist visas to Australia has to be weighed up against the million plus Australians who travel to Indonesia each year, and where some fall afoul of the law and seemingly have no problems getting new visas.
Due to cancelled flights, recently there have been reports of Australians overstaying visas in Bali having been charged $100 per day, with no hint that they will not be welcomed back. “It is a discretionary eligibility criteria and these guidelines are their own policy whereby the country is a factor,” Byrnes said.
The most recent and complete set of data on visa overstays is for 2016-17 which shows that more than 64,000 people were overstaying visas in Australia, with the government estimating that 12,000 have been here for more than 20 years.
It says that around 47,000 of these overstayers came here on tourist visas, with over half of these originating from Asian countries, with Malaysia topping the list with nearly 10,000, followed by 6,500 Chinese nationals and 2,780 Indonesians.
“It is something that an individual behind a desk is going to look at … and come to their own judgement, and unfortunately it is not black and white, it is grey, and once a person has had a visa refused it is going to be difficult for them to get approval in the future,” Byrnes said. “Home Affairs is a tough nut to crack with visitor visas.”
In other words, someone working in the visa section at a foreign-based embassy is unlikely to overturn a decision already made.
While no one is advocating abolishing vetting for visas it seems that when applying for a tourist visa Indonesian citizens can quickly find themselves locked into a Kafkaesque nightmare not of their own making.
“Anyway, it’s OK, maybe not this time to go to Sydney, maybe another time,” Andre added.