So, you’re excited that mum and dad are planning a trip Down Under, but you have some doubts and queries. How long can they stay? Will they get assistance during travel? Can they bring home-made laddoos? We answer some frequently asked questions here.
- My parents have been granted tourist visa and I’m about to book their tickets for Australia. Do I need to book their return tickets now itself?
Sure, you could if you’re getting a good deal, but there is no requirement of a return ticket for a person entering Australia on a tourist or visitor visa.
*Expert view: At the immigration counters, I have not seen any officers checking whether the traveller is holding a return ticket or not. As an evidence for whether a person intends to depart at the end of their stay or not, I am not sure what value such a ticket will offer to the inspecting officer as despite holding a return ticket, the traveller may decide to not leave Australia. In any case, immigration checks are also being gradually automated. Therefore, buying a return ticket to India at the point of buying a ticket to Australia is a cost-driven decision.
- My parents had applied for a one-year stay visa but they have been granted only a three-month stay visa. Should they reapply?
They could reapply but there are some ifs and buts involved.
Expert: Reapplying may be possible if the ‘no further stay’ condition is not attached to their visas. Generally, parents old enough to qualify to receive the age pension in Australia will receive the ‘no further stay’ condition. The condition can be removed in some situations. You may need to speak to a qualified MARA agent to study the case.
- Can you explain the various tourist visa conditions?
There are many types of tourist visa. Each visa may have different conditions attached to it.
Expert: The tourist visa conditions are:
8101 – No work: The visa holder cannot work in Australia.
8201 – Maximum 3 Months Study: While in Australia, the holder must not engage, for more than three months, in any studies or training.
8501 – Health cover: The visa holder must maintain adequate arrangements for health insurance during their stay in Australia.
8503 – No further stay: The visa holder will not, after entering Australia, be entitled to be granted a substantive visa, other than a protection visa, while they remain in Australia.
8531 – Must leave before visa expiry: The holder must not remain in Australia after the end of the period of stay permitted by the visa.
8558 – Non Resident: Cannot stay for more than 12 months in any 18 month period.
- My parents are with me in Australia and want to extend their three-month stay visitor visa to a longer duration. What are the options and what is the procedure?
There may be times when your parents might need to extend their stay in Australia for health issues, to help you out with a new baby or any other reason. Fortunately, even though they may have entered Australia on a visa with no more than a three-month continuous stay, they can apply for an extension of their stay duration.
Expert: An online application can be submitted as long as conditions on the current visa are not precluded. Generally medical tests for tourist visas are not required. However, if one seeks to stay in Australia for more than six months, they may be asked to undergo a chest x-ray and/or a medical examination. Additionally, visitor visa (subclass 600) applicants who are over the age of 75 are required to complete a medical examination.
- My parents have been granted tourist visa but their passports have less than six months’ validity. Will they face any issues?
Many airlines do not allow passengers to travel internationally if their passports are due to expire in less than six months. Most people advise that it’s safest to travel internationally with more than six months of validity left on your passport.
Expert: The six-month passport validity rule is enforced because nations do not want to risk having travellers and tourists overstaying their passport validity. Six months is now the standard validity requirement for many countries. As far as my knowledge goes, as on day Australia does not mandate the six-month passport validity.
- My parents do not speak fluent English. What should they do at airports while changing flights or at the immigration counter after they land in Australia?
Lack of English proficiency may sometimes limit communication during international travel, but it certainly isn’t the end of the world. As long as the travellers know basic English, they should be fine.
Expert: Most Indians do have at least some knowledge of English, so they can travel without too much trouble. Besides, at airports there are plenty of signs to help those who can read and understand English but might not be able to speak it fluently. There are co-passengers from all backgrounds and more often than not, there would be some Indians on the flight. Nowadays, the airline staff is also multicultural or multilingual, so that might help too. However, if travellers have any serious concerns, they should share them with the airlines.
- This is my parents’ first international travel and they are nervous about changing terminals at the airport. What can I do to make sure they don’t get lost?
International travel or long flights can be unnerving for some people. However, staff at the airport and in the airplane are usually helpful and friendly. Soothing words aside, there actually is something you can do to make the travel easy for your parents.
Expert: The parents can request assistance at the departing airport. Assistance can also be requested at the time the tickets are booked. Depending on the type of assistance required, airlines are generally able to assist passengers free of charge. The instruction is forwarded to the transit airports as well.
- My parents have difficulty walking. What can I do to make their travel smoother?
Many senior citizens have mobility issues. If the travel involves changing terminals, long walks may be involved. This can be physically demanding for many elderly people. But again, help is at hand.
Expert: Wheelchair access can be requested starting from the immigration counter where the first boarding pass is picked up from all the way to the end of journey.
- Is it safe to ask someone from a Facebook group to accompany my parents during their travel?
In the ever-widening desi communities of Facebook, this is one question that keeps recurring. No doubt concerned about their parents’ wellbeing, many people ask on the group if anyone else is travelling to Australia on the same flight as their parents’ and give them company. The parents may face any number of issues – from limited mobility to lack of English/Hindi fluency or even nervousness because of flying. In such a scenario, many people are even okay with moving their parents’ travel dates around to suit anyone who agrees to escort or accompany them through their journey. While most people – and their parents – are open and even eager to do this, it is not entirely risk-free.
Expert: Unless the person is known personally this should be avoided, even though airports are high security zones.
- My parents can’t stay for more than three months at a stretch in Australia. Is it okay for them to travel to New Zealand, Fiji or any other nearby country and return a few days later so they can again stay in Australia for another three months?
This workaround is not uncommon for those who want to extend their parents’ stay. If visitors have a three-month maximum duration stay and a multiple entry visa, at the end of their three-month stay, they can simply fly to a nearby country and then return to Australia for another three-month stay. There’s nothing illegal in doing this.
Expert: Yes, this can be done as long as it does not violate any other condition on the visa.
- Can I apply for my parents’ tourist visa from Australia?
Many desis – the loving kids that they are – want to save their parents the hassle of applying for a visitor visa on their own. The good news is that they can apply online for their parents’ visa.
Expert: Yes, this is possible provided the ‘no further stay’ condition is not attached to the visa. Tourist visas are granted for stays of 3, 6 or 12 months. Eligible parents of Australian citizens could be granted a longer validity period.
- My parents don’t have a good bank balance and their tourist visa may get rejected. What options do I have to enable them to visit me in Australia?
Bank statements are an important supporting document while applying for a visitor visa. They are used in proving that the applicant can support their expenses during their stay in Australia. However, due to some unfortunate reasons, some senior parents such as retirees may not have a large bank balance due to which their visa application could be weak. However, if the children of such parents are Australian residents or citizens with decent bank balance, the parents can still apply for the visa.
Expert view: If a permanent resident or Australian citizen is sufficiently resourced, their parents can still apply for a visitor visa. Even a normal non-sponsored category is fine. While there are no specific guidelines on this, the decision-maker for the visa grant will need to be satisfied that the traveller will be able to support themselves while in Australia. Another thing to remember is that the visitors have no work rights. An Australian citizen or PR child in a stable employment with some bank balance is good enough.
- What food or other items can my parents bring with them? What precautions should they take?
Australia has very strict biosecurity laws and bringing in food and other items that is not permitted will almost always result in its confiscation and/or fine. The Department of Agriculture and Water Resources website says, “Australia has strict laws relating to the importation of certain goods. This ensures that the biosecurity risk to Australia’s agricultural industries and unique environment is minimised. You must declare certain food, plant material and animal products. When you declare these goods they will be checked by a Department of Agriculture and Water Resources biosecurity officer who will determine whether they are allowed into Australia. Some products may require treatment to make them safe. Other goods may be restricted due to pest and disease risks.”
Some of the more unusual items not allowed include soil or mud on your shoes, fruits (including frozen fruits), vegetables (including frozen vegetables), meat (fresh, dried, frozen, cooked, smoked, salted and preserved), eggs (whole, dried or powdered), products that contain more than 10 percent egg (like mayonnaise), all dairy products, all mammals, birds’ eggs, birds’ nests, fish, reptiles, amphibians, insects, all plants, cuttings, roots and bulbs, cereals, popping corn, nuts, chestnuts, pine cones, bird seed, commercially packaged seeds and pet food.
There are also plenty of things that are technically allowed into Australia, but that you have to declare first and have them checked or even treated. These include noodles, rice, all snacks, biscuits, herbs, spices, feathers, bones, horns, tusks, skins, hides, furs, stuffed animals, shells, coral, used animal equipment, wooden things, anything made from plant material, like mats, bags and clothes, straw products, coconut shells, Christmas decorations, flowers, camping equipment or sporting equipment. Of course, this is not an exhaustive list and there may be more items in the restricted category. Therefore, a final piece of caution below.
Expert: If not sure of a food or any other item, travellers should declare them and walk through the red channel or simply discard the items at the airport.
- What medicines can my parents bring with them? Can they buy medication in Australia using prescriptions of their doctors in India?
Many visiting seniors are on some sort of regular medication but always worry if they can carry several months’ worth of pills with them. Short answer? Yes.
Expert: Three months’ worth of medicines are permitted – with prescription. Again travellers should check with customs for any exclusions or updates to rules before travelling. Equivalent brands are likely to be available in Australia. A better approach is to that people living here and who know their parents’ health conditions should discuss them with any GP here at least a month before the parents arrive and then arrange medicines accordingly.
- I want to bring my parents to stay with me for an extended period of time. What are my options? How long is the wait? What are the expenses?
Parents are able to apply for a visitor visa (subclass 600) to visit Australia for a longer period. Multiple entry visas with a maximum stay of 12 months are considered on a case-by-case basis with maximum validity periods of up to:
* Five years for parents outside Australia and in the Parent Visa (subclass 103) queue;
* Three years for parents outside Australia who have:
– had a previous Australian visa and complied with the conditions; and
– have not applied for a Parent visa; or
– have applied for a parent visa but are not yet in the Parent Visa (subclass103) queue;
* 18 months for parents who have:
– not previously travelled to Australia; and
– have not applied for a Parent visa; or
– have applied for a Parent visa but are not yet in the Parent visa (subclass103) queue.
Longer visitor visas above are also considered for step-parents and eligible New Zealand citizens. Visitor visas are not intended for maintaining ongoing residence in Australia. Accordingly, longer visitor visas will not be considered for parents who are already in Australia or have already spent 12 months in Australia in the last 18 months.
If a parent has recently stayed in Australia for an extended period, they will generally not be considered for a longer tourist visa until they have spent a minimum of six months outside Australia in the last 18 months at the time their new visitor visa application is lodged.
- My parents want to move to Australia to live with me. What are my options? How long is the wait? What are the expenses?
There is a new sponsored category visa for parents with a maximum stay of five years at a time. They cost between $5,000 and $10,000 depending on the length of stay. However, the parents do not receive Medicare. There are other kinds of residency visas for parents as well. These include non-contributory visas (which have a very long wait for more than 30 years) as well as contributory temporary residency and permanent residency visas.
(For a detailed explanation of how this works, go here)
- What kind of health insurance will my parents need when they’re in Australia?
Most people prefer to buy health insurance in Australia rather than get one from India. This can make things hassle-free in case your parents need to visit the doctor or the hospital while they’re here. Insurance bought from India may not necessarily cover this or you may need to pay upfront. Make sure you read all insurance-related documents carefully and consider your parents’ pre-existing health conditions before choosing the right insurance for them.
Bupa and Alliance seem to offer the most competitive options, but get the quotes and make sure you are aware of the exclusions and coverage of the selected insurance policy.
- What are some good mobile plans for my parents while they’re here?
High international roaming rates can burn a hole in your pocket and you might want to consider buying a SIM card for your parents while they’re here. While most of us have wifi at home (which means the parents’ WhatsApp group chats are sorted), they might need to make calls back home. Many carriers offer unlimited free calling to India and a decent amount of data from about $30 a month.
- How do I look after my parents’ social needs while they are here? What are some good seniors’ groups where my parents can socialise?
At the outset your parents will be happy to be with the family, learning all about then life you have built for yourself and your family. You might find your mum will adjust to her new surroundings better than your dad, as she gets busy with household chores, especially cooking you your favourite meals from your childhood. She might also help more with the kids’ daily routines, while your dad might stick to transporting the kids to and from school.
Overall, though, the isolation will kick in at some stage – what are they to do when they are alone in the day? You might have Indian TV all sorted for them, or you might take the opportunity to introduce them to a whole new virtual world on their preferred devices.
But pay attention to their social needs as well. This could be difficult if you and your spouse both work full-time, but luckily there are some wonderful weekend events that you could manage. These are organised by volunteer-run community associations, and some such as those listed below have become well regarded for their care of our seniors. They organise regular meetings at which elders mingle and engage in group activities such as yoga and mild exercises, entertainment activities such as bingo and cultural presentations, information-based activities such as health and finance-based sessions, and have a light meal. Festivals and personal milestone dates such as birthday and anniversaries are marked, and lately, grandparents’ days have become a regular occurrence.
Events are held across Sydney, often at multiple locations by each of these associations, so ring around and find one that suits you.
- Australian Hindi Indians Association (AHIA) Seniors Group: Contact Tilak Kalra 0413 753 134
- RAIN: Contact Sudha Natarajan 0420 271 570
- SRI OM CARE: Contact Jay Raman 0410 759 906
- AASHA: Contact Bijinder Duggal 0412 786 569
- My parents love watching TV serials back home. How can they watch them here?
Like it or not, the routines of many seniors and retirees revolve around TV serials. There’s no need for them to miss out on the latest episodes of their favourite serials while they are in Australia. There are many set-top box services that offer regular Hindi channels as well as a good selection of regional channels. Most of the TV boxes work on monthly or yearly subscriptions while some come with a one-time payment. They also need a fast and reliable internet connection to work. Some of these services even have apps through which the programs can be watched on the phone or tablet. Services such as Yupp TV, Worldmax, Real TV and Jadoo TV are quite popular currently. Yupp TV has monthly subscription schemes, Worldmax has a one-time payment rather than an annual subscription, while Jadoo TV does not enjoy good reviews. Some people also buy Google Chromecast and download the app of one of the TV channel services mentioned above – there is a monthly fee – and stream it from their phone to the TV. Buying an Amazon Fire TV Stick is another option to stream content to the TV.
*Our expert is Ramneek Madahar, a registered migration agent at The Great Learning Tree