More than 23,000 Australians stuck overseas due to coronavirus border restrictions want to come home.
The number of Australians trying to return has soared in the past two weeks.
The Department of Foreign Affairs told a Senate inquiry investigating the implications of COVID-19 that at least 18,800 Australians had “indicated a wish to come home” on August 20.
But the department on Wednesday revealed that had now risen to about 23,000 people, with 7000 of those based in India.
DFAT spokeswoman Dr Fiona Webster told the committee about 15 per cent of travellers, or 3450 people, stuck overseas were classed as “vulnerable”.
More than $1.3 million in traveller emergency loans related to coronavirus were issued between March and June this year.
At least 402 loans have already been issued and available funds increased from $550,000 to $5 million.
There is no cap on the number of loans that can be issued to desperate traveller who have exhausted all financial options.
When asked if the $5 million would be allocated this year, Dr Webster said: “Yes, I do.”
The Federal Government’s 4000 weekly passenger cap has slashed the number of arrivals into the country and left airlines struggling to break even on scheduled flights.
This is forcing people to borrow money from family and friends to pay for a business class ticket in the hope they will be bumped up the waiting list for a seat.
The caps are being assessed at fortnightly National Cabinet meetings but are scheduled to remain until October 24.
Acting Immigration Minister Alan Tudge on Wednesday unveiled a new priority skills list, which allow small numbers of sponsored skilled workers to return to Australia to fill urgent skills needs in critical sectors.
Seventeen occupations on the list include nurses, GPs, psychiatrists, software and mechanical engineers and construction project managers.
“Our priority is getting Australians back into work, but we also need key health workers to help fight the virus and skilled migrants who are going to be job multipliers to help the economy recover,” Mr Tudge said.
Sponsored visa holders can request an exemption from Australia’s travel restrictions.
However, they will have to quarantine for 14 days at their own expense.
Dutch-Australian man Pieter den Heten, who is stranded in Amsterdam, has created a map and website to show the extent of where fellow residents are stuck around the world.
According to the ABC, Mr den Heten has been overseas for six months. He decided to become an advocate for other overseas Australians by launching the ‘Remove the Cap’ website. Mr den Heten said he became aware of the negative and attitudes towards Australians who are still stuck overseas and wanted to change the mindset.
“The sheer number [of Australians trying to get home] and scale of the issue really triggered my inner activist,” he said.
“Instead of sitting back and being a keyboard warrior I thought, ‘Why not do something a bit more tangible with the skills I have?’”
“I really felt like I needed to do something.”
Mr den Heten’s website allows stranded Australians to drop a pin showing where they are in the world, share their story and even upload a photo.
“I wanted to put faces and stories to the numbers — these are real people, not just statistics,” he said, adding more than 30 countries had received a pin.
“I wanted to show the Australian public what we are going through … in the hope it would create some empathy towards us.”