The department responsible for helping Australians overseas is winding back some of its services to pre-COVID settings after removing thousands from the list of people wanting to return.
The move is a recognition of Australia’s reopening borders, an increase in commercial flights and improving global vaccination rates.
But it comes at a time when thousands are still stranded overseas, thanks mostly to vaccination recognition issues or their home state or territory’s border policy.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said it would still operate repatriation flights in the coming months to help the roughly 7500 Australians still registered as wanting to return home.
But a special portal for Australians overseas to express their need to get home has been shut to new registrations and travellers and expats are being directed to instead contact their closest embassy or consulate if they need help.
“The temporary registration portal was established in the context of Australia’s COVID-19 border settings,” a DFAT spokesperson said in a statement.
“The process of expressing an interest in seeking consular assistance is now reverting to pre-COVID settings.
“From today (21 November), people departing Australia will no longer be able to register on DFAT’s COVID-19 registration portal.”
“There are still quite a few people that can’t get home and if they kept the registration open, I think … the number would continue to be high for a while,” she told 9News.com.au.
“This number, I think, has been embarrassing for the Government, and it is hard not to see this as a quite cynical attempt to make them look better.
“Many people still can’t get back, because of states not letting them in, or the wrong vaccine such as Sputnik.”
In late October, about 20,000 people were culled from a list of Australians wanting to return home that numbered more than 45,000 at one point.
It’s understood this was one of several reviews conducted by the department over the course of the pandemic in which overseas Australians were removed from the list if they didn’t confirm they still needed help to get home.
In one recent email, the department asked people to give as much information as possible as to why they couldn’t get back, including a lack of vaccine access or commercial flight options.
The DFAT spokesperson said the department had run 209 flights during the pandemic, helping about 32,000 Australians return home, and on Sunday about 75000 were still registered.
“Many Australians who were previously registered are no longer seeking government assistance to return, including those who are now returning via commercial flights,” they said.
“DFAT has repeatedly contacted Australians abroad registered as wanting to return to get the most up-to-date understanding of their intentions and their need for support from the government.”