‘Bye-bye, Australia’: The migrants leaving for good so they can see their families

Wendy Gutteridge moved to Australia from England in 2015 and never wanted to leave. The 45-year-old worked as a prosecutor for the RSCPA in Victoria and became an Australian citizen last year. But as the state and country she called home closed their borders to prevent the spread of COVID-19, ‘Fortress Australia’ began to feel like a prison. The international travel ban meant she couldn’t visit her widowed mother in England, so she packed her bags in January and gave up on her dream. “Which just shows how strong the pull is to see your family. At the time, the UK had over 70,000 cases every day – over 1,000 deaths,” she tells SBS News.

Ms. Gutteridge says the government’s handling of the travel ban cast a shadow on her experience in Australia, and, despite having citizenship, she can’t see herself rushing back anytime soon. “It was just so disappointing. I would’ve sung Australia’s praises to everybody and would’ve said, ‘This is a great place to live, you know, the government is great; it was just so disappointing because it made me think, ‘Perhaps they’re not.'”

“There’s just been no recognition for people desperate to see their families, and they keep putting the dates back and back and back.” “I wonder whether or not people will think twice about moving to another country, emigrating to Australia permanently, if you’re going to be a prisoner there. It felt like I was trapped; I felt quite isolated.”


‘I can’t be stuck here.’

Brittney Lee, 33, has also struggled with separating from her family, who live in the US, after moving to Perth with her Australian husband five years ago.

“It hasn’t been good at all. Honestly, this last year has probably been one of the hardest on my mental health, not knowing when I would see them,” she says

“There are days where my physical health has taken a toll, and I’ve never had that before, you know, where your mental health isn’t so good, so your physical health is deteriorating.

Ms. Lee works in the disability sector, and her husband, Mark, 36, is a diesel engineer in the mines.

Brittney Lee and her husband, Mark, call it quits on Australia.


The couple planned to move to California within two weeks, blaming Australia’s strict conditions on arrivals and departures. “I see this as very long-term, especially after this last year and seeing how Australia has handled the border restrictions and all that,” Ms. Lee says. She has permanent residency in Australia and had planned to apply for citizenship but now doesn’t see the point. “It might make it easier long term, but I have PR – which I’ve spent over $10,000 on and waited two-and-a-half years for – but now I’m probably going to lose it anyway, just with how visas work, but I don’t look at it as a loss anymore.”

The couple has also put a hold on having children.

Ms. Lee wants to see her family in the US.


“I can’t be stuck here in the future with kids, with family over there,” Ms. Lee says. “Or if I need to go back and my husband’s here with the kids, or I need to go home for an emergency, and I can’t get back, I can’t risk that.”

All that’s left for them to be able to leave the country is an exemption from the federal government.

“In a few weeks, Mark will have his green card and proof of a job offer in America. We’ll have proof that we quit our jobs and ended our lease. We have all that proof, so I assume we’ll get an exemption, but I’ve also heard of people having that proof and being denied.”

‘We can’t wait that long.’

For Annelies and Daniel Kavan, not seeing family in Canada after having their first child last year has weighed heavily.

“It was incredibly, incredibly difficult. I had some serious health issues when Max was first born, and being unable to have family that we had intended on having around was almost impossible,” Mrs. Kavan says.

Annelies and Daniel Kavan are considering leaving the Gold Coast for good.


The couple has lived on the Gold Coast since March 2017 and has built successful careers. Mrs. Kavan is a freelance screenwriter, and her husband is a consultant in the legal technology industry.

They’re now also considering saying goodbye to the Australian life they envisaged.

“If the only way we can see the family is if we go overseas, then we’re left with no other choice,” Mr. Kavan says.

“The borders aren’t going to be open until at least mid-2022. I feel like we can’t wait that long, and we’d be looking at moving over to Canada at the end of this year or the start of next year.”

“We decided to move to Australia because we thought it would be the best place to raise a family, but if we’re not able to see family and if we’re not able to travel in and out to be reunited now and then with family, then it loses its value as a place to raise a family.”

Mr. Kavan says the federal government is ignoring families like theirs.
The Kavan’s miss family in Canada.


“Closed borders have helped keep coronavirus out and keep Australians safe, but at the same time, the toll it’s taken on many Australians’ mental health to be torn apart from their families for so long shouldn’t be underestimated.”

Mrs. Kavan agrees, saying the government’s policies risk the foundation of a migrant nation.

“There’s been a bit of an anti-migrant sentiment from the government. I think. The 2016 census found nearly half (49 percent) of all Australians were either born overseas or had at least one parent born overseas. It doesn’t consider all these people with strong connections and family overseas, which is most people.”

Molly Aronson

I'm an award-winning blogger who enjoys all things creative but is especially passionate about lifestyle design. I blog over at I love that I get to share my passion for healthy living, fashion, fitness, and travel with readers from all over the world.

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