An error in Australia's airline visa system is leaving Chinese students who have already waited out a 14 day exclusion period around COVID-19 coronavirus fears stranded overseas while they wait to return to Australia. Updated: Home Affairs refutes the claims, however.
As The Australian reports, an error in the Visa Entitlement Verification Online (VEVO) system, which is used to verify visas for overseas residents seeking to enter Australia, has left at least 100 Chinese students unable to board planes and fly back to Australia to commence or recommence their studies.
The error is reported as existing because the system hasn't properly registered those students as being eligible for visas, even after passing the recommended 14-day isolation period around fears of spreading the COVID-19 Coronavirus.
It's the latest in a long series of indignities heaped on Chinese students affected since the travel ban on Chinese nationals came into effect on 1 February 2019.
The error in the VEVO system appears to have affected students who should otherwise have been granted visas on February 15, because that's 14 days since the travel ban was enacted, allowing those students the requested time to ensure that they're not likely to be carriers of the virus.
The Australian quotes an unnamed student left in travel limbo as being sent an email that simply stated:
"Unfortunately, at this time VEVO will continue to be unavailable. However, we encourage you to recheck VEVO when the travel restrictions are lifted."
Gizmodo Australia has contacted the Department of Home Affairs and received the following direct response from a department spokesperson, challenging the Australian's story:
VEVO is a system used by visa holders and third parties such as employers, to check an individual’s visa conditions, particularly in relation to work or study rights.
• VEVO is not the system airlines use to check a traveller’s visa. Airlines use the Advance Passenger Processing (APP) system to check that a traveller has both authority to travel to Australia and the appropriate travel documents.
• All visa holders can access their visa details, including their grant letter and visa conditions, online via their personal ImmiAccount.
• The Department is providing advice directly to visa holders impacted by the travel ban via their ImmiAccounts. Advice is also available on the Department’s website and through the global call centre.
• Travellers, including students, are still able to travel to Australia, provided they have not left or transited through mainland China in the last 14 days.
• Claims that Chinese students are being penalised or targeted by the current travel restrictions are incorrect.
• The restrictions are in place to prevent the spread of coronavirus to Australia. They apply equally to anyone, of any nationality, who has left or transited through mainland China in the last 14 days (unless exempted, such as Australian citizens, permanent residents and their immediate family members).
International students, including those from China contribute significantly to the Australian economy; in 2018 according to ABS statistics there were 690,000 international students in Australia, adding $34 billion to the economy that year. Continued issues and tensions around COVID-19 could significantly impact that kind of economic stimulus.