A woman who was supposed to marry her fiancé is instead in a relentless fight just to get into the same country as him.
Natalie Capper, who lives in Western Sydney, was due to marry her partner Thomas Nunez in March but their plans came to a halt when coronavirus prevented him from moving to Australia from New York.
At the eleventh hour he was bumped off a plane to Australia and refused an exemption from Australia Border Force to enter the country.
This is just one of thousands of stories of couples on opposite sides of the world, with more than 3,000 people sharing personal tribulations of being apart on Facebook.
For Ms Capper, she is working full-time and raising her children alone, while others are missing the birth of their babies or mothers are forced to deliver alone.
Some have applied for travel exemptions through the Department of Home Affairs more than nine times after having been continuously rejected, while Ms Capper is onto her third application.
Couple’s battle to reunite
Ms Capper had known her partner for years before they decided to embark on a relationship just over two years ago.
For years they travelled back and forth between Sydney and New York City but after the proposal last year, Mr Nunez and Ms Capper planned to marry in Australia on March 27 and build their lives down under.
“We actually booked to have the wedding on March 27, he was supposed to come on March 3. We were going to have a small ceremony in Sydney as we had put the money forward for long-term visas and already gone through the proper channels to do that,” Ms Capper told Yahoo News Australia.
“He got bumped off his flight and we kind of knew about coronavirus at the time but I thought what happened with his flight was just a random thing.
“Before we knew it there was an exemption put in place. He’d already gotten rid of his apartment, finished his job, sold his car and all his possessions. I had paid for the dress, the venue and we were going to have to postpone.
“He said it will only last a couple of months and stay with his parents and come after, but we’ve gotten to a point where there is no after.”
Ms Capper said they have gone through three immigration lawyers and sent applications to the Department of Home Affairs that are 40 to 50 pages long.
She has added photos, wedding bookings and even a receipt for chocolate-dipped strawberries she sent him for Valentine’s Day two years ago – but still they are being refused despite Mr Nunez coming to Australia permanently.
‘He’s not coming to see the Harbour Bridge’
Ms Capper said they were happy to pay for his hotel quarantine and do everything that is required to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
“It’s terrifying,” she said.
“We could almost say OK we’ll wait it out but until when? It makes it very hard. We all want to do the right thing – we’re not those people who don’t want to wear a mask and we’re doing all the things they’re asking us to do so why are we not getting that exemption?
“He’s not coming here to visit Ayres Rock and see the Harbour Bridge.”
Ms Capper said a number of people were running out of time as those wanting to apply for an exemption needed to have a tourist visa which lasts just 12 months.
However, no new applications can be made for a tourist visa. Thankfully, Mr Nunez got his in December before the pandemic but other couples aren’t so lucky.
“I never thought it would be like this, I can’t believe it,” she said.
“I’m not sleeping. I’m working 50 hours a week and in the interim I’m thinking maybe I have a receipt with Thomas and Natalie written on it I can add to my application.”
‘This just had to end’
Ms Capper’s story is just one of thousands of heartbreaking tales. She said she has heard stories of couples who even ended their relationships because applying for the exemption became too much of a burden.
Stories from people with exceptional circumstances are flooding the Partners Apart Facebook group, with couple’s left in the dark as to when they’ll be able to see each other again.
One woman revealed she had been left to raise her children alone after her partner left the UK to return to WA for work in March.
She is hoping to return to Australia, while her partner is also trying to apply for an exemption to simply visit his family.
“This has to end,” she said.
“Never once did we believe that we were saying goodbye to one another indefinitely.
“Our poor, poor three-year-old son has asked every day if or when daddy is coming home. He is so tired of hearing about germs ... I have told him that the planes are broken and he’s even suggested why doesn’t he drive.
“I’m at a complete loss as to what to say to comfort him anymore. His daddy is his idol. His world.”
To make circumstances even more devastating, the woman discovered she was pregnant just four days after her partner returned to Australia.
It took her 11 weeks to tell him, holding out hope she could do it in person and not via FaceTime.
“He should be home for the birth, but his company need a date for his return to work and with all of the flight cancellations he cannot guarantee them a date,” she said.
“For now, we are at the other end of the world to one another, I need my partner, need some support, need some rest but above all, my son needs his daddy.”
Who is eligible for a travel exemption?
Under Australia’s strict border measures, all travellers arriving in Australia must quarantine at a designated hotel for 14 days and may be required to front the cost.
The Department of Home Affairs says people cannot come to Australia unless they are an exempt category or have been granted an individual exemption.
Those who fall under the exempt categories include:
Australian citizens or permanent residents of Australia
Immediate family member of citizen or permanent resident
A New Zealand citizen who resides in Australia
Airline or maritime crew, including marine pilots
A traveller passing through Australia for 72 hours or less
A diplomat accredited to Australia
The Home Affairs website states the Australian Border Force may grant an exemption in other circumstances.
A non-citizen invited to Australia to assist with the COVID response and a non-citizen with critical skills working in a critical sector in Australia may be granted an exemption.
Those providing critical medical services and military personnel could also be approved.
A student completing year 11 and 12 with support from the relevant state and territory government could too be eligible for an exemption, as well as those travelling for compassionate and compelling reasons.
An Australia Border Force spokesperson told Yahoo News Australia in a statement from March 20, foreign nationals who did not meet the criteria would not be allowed in the country.
“Decisions by the ABF Commissioner to grant exemptions for travel for compassionate and compelling circumstances must be balanced against the government’s intent for imposing the travel ban and the health risks posed to the Australian community by international travellers,” the spokesperson said.
“Each case is unique and considered individually based on the information and supporting evidence provided in the application.
“From March 20 to August 16, over 15,250 foreign nationals have had their inbound travel exemption request approved to travel to Australia.”
The spokesperson added there was no quota on the number of people that could be granted exemptions.
Anybody seeking more information on travel restrictions can visit the Home Affairs website.
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