Enter and Leave Australia during COVID-19 Pandemic

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Shortly after the global pandemic caused by the virus COVID-19 was announced, Australia closed its borders for travellers and introduced special measures to regulate entering and leaving the country. These measures aim to limit and control the number of people entering and leaving the country, thus protecting the public health of Australian society.

Those wishing to come to Australia as tourists, students, workers or for any other reason are advised not to purchase plane tickets and/or not lodge visa applications for Australia while the new COVID-19 rules are in effect, unless they are exempt from these rules:

Measures that are in force at the time of publishing this article imply that:

  1. Those with a temporary residence visa for Australia need to have an exemption to travel to Australia in order to board the plane for Australia and enter Australia (unless exceptions apply);
  2. Permanent residents in Australia or Australian citizens do not need an exemption to travel to Australia, but they cannot leave Australia without having a permission to leave (they will not be able to board a plane, as the government will not allow them), unless they are exempt;
  3. A 14-day quarantine is mandatory for all those who come to Australia, regardless of whether they are citizens, permanent residents or holders of temporary visas. In some Australian states/territories you will have to cover your own quarantine expenses and it is recommended to check in advance who bears this cost – either you personally or government, as the costs can be up to AUD$ 2,500- 3,000 per person.

Exemption to travel to Australia

Those who are coming to Australia need to have a visa and an exemption to travel granted. One cannot go without the other, and it can happen that the person has a visa granted, but not the exemption to travel or has the exemption to travel granted, but not the visa, or none of them. In all three cases the person cannot travel to Australia, but there are exceptions to these rules.

Additional struggle is that besides having a visa and exemption to travel granted, you need to purchase the plane ticket for Australia which can be hard given the fact that there is a limited number of people that can enter Australia.

For many, flights are postponed constantly and arranging the flight ticket seems like a mission impossible.

Due to these limitations, purchasing the business class flight ticket may be the only safest, immediate and, at the same time, fastest option. We cannot check the accuracy of this information, but we believe it is true due to the current economic position of airline companies.

Family members of Australian citizen or permanent resident

If you are:

  • a spouse/de facto partner,
  • a parent of a minor Australian citizen/permanent resident, or
  • a minor or financially dependent child of an Australian citizen or permanent resident,

and you are not the holder of a Partner or Child visa, but the holder of some other type of temporary visa, it is necessary to enclose evidence of your relationship, so you can have your exemption to enter Australia granted.

Compassionate and compelling reasons to travel to Australia

If the person has some compassionate and compelling reasons to enter Australia, such as a serious health condition of an immediate family member, death of an immediate family member or similar compassionate reasons, the person can be granted an exemption to enter Australia.

Exemption to enter Australia processing time

It is difficult to estimate how fast the request for exemption to enter Australia will take to process. On average and based on our experience it is between 1-10 days, but the processing time depends on the amount of work the officers have as they receive new requests on a daily basis.

Who does not have to lodge the request for exemption to enter Australia?

If you meet certain requirements and have a valid visa already, then you are automatically exempt from the ban on entering Australia that can happen in case you are:

  • an Australian permanent resident,
  • an immediate family member of an Australian citizen or permanent resident that includes only parents, children and spouse/de facto partners that have an Australian Partner or Child visa,
  • a citizen of New Zealand, who is an ordinarily resident in Australia and their immediate family members,
  • a diplomat in Australia (holders of visa 995),
  • a traveller transiting through Australia for 72 hours or less while having a valid Transit visa if required so,
  • an airline or maritime crew member,
  • a person recruited under the Seasonal Worker Program of Pacific Labour Scheme.

Critical sectors and skills

If you are a non-citizen there is a possibility for an individual travel exemption if you are working in critical sectors or you have critical skills. In this case you can be granted an exemption to enter Australia if you are:

  • travelling at the invitation of the Australian Government for the purpose of assisting in the COVID-19 response,
  • providing specialist medical services, including air ambulance, medical evacuation and delivering necessary medical supplies,
  • having critical skills necessary for maintaining  the supply of essential goods as well as services in medical technology, critical infrastructure, telecommunications, engineering and mining, supply chain logistics, agriculture, primary industry, food production and the maritime industry,
  • providing services in sectors critical to the recovery of Australia’s economy, such as financial technology, large scale manufacturing, film, media and television production and emerging technology, where there are no Australian workers available,
  • providing critical skills in religious or theology fields,
  • having your occupation on the Priority Migration Skilled Occupation List (PMSOL) and you are sponsored by your employer to come to work in Australia,
  • in the national interest of Australia supported by the Australian Government.

When lodging the request, besides the general information and reason for travel, you must include a supporting statement where you will state how you obtained those critical skills and evidence regarding the provision of critical goods or services.

When entering Australia, those who have been exempt must show evidence of their status on the basis of which they were exempt from entering the country, that is boarding the plane.

If you do not belong to any of the above mentioned groups, you need to lodge the request for exemption to enter Australia that we have previously explained.

Why was I refused the exemption to enter Australia?

Based on our experience, when a person is granted a visa soon after that they are granted the exemption to travel, or vice versa, first the exemption and then the visa. The person can only then start looking for plane tickets to come to Australia.

However, your entry may be denied for different reasons that are usually not stated and an appeal against these decisions is not advised due to the length and costs of the appeal procedure.

Lodging the request for exemption to enter is free of charge, and the Australian Department of Home Affairs states that being refused an exemption to enter is not the same as having your visa refused and it should not affect your current or future visa applications.

On the other hand, having the exemption to enter Australia granted can result in having more then one visa granted, depending on the circumstances.

Exemption to leave Australia

Foreign citizens in Australia on temporary visas

If you happen to be in Australia on a visitor visa or some other temporary visa, you can leave Australia without asking for an exemption. It is important that you check if the country you go to or the country you are transiting through to reach your final destination allow your entry or transit.

There is an option to extend your stay and remain in Australia until the situation gets better. You can contact us for more information about how to extend your stay in Australia via contacts we left at the end of this article in case you are interested in this option.

Australian citizens and permanent residents

If you are an Australian citizen or permanent resident you are not allowed to leave the country unless you have special circumstances.

Some of the reasons for being exempt from the travel ban are:

  • Your travel is for the purpose of assisting in the COVID-19 response,
  • Your travel is critical for some industries and business,
  • Your travel is in the national interest,
  • You need urgent medical assistance that cannot be performed in Australia,
  • You must travel overseas due to personal and urgent reasons,
  • You have compassionate and compelling reasons for travel.

Who does not need to be exempt from travel ban

You can leave Australia if you are:

  • an ordinarily resident in another country besides Australia,
  • an airline, maritime crew or associated safety worker,
  • a New Zealand citizen that is a holder of Special Category 444 visa,
  • a holder of a temporary visa for Australia.

Processing time of the request for a travel exemption

Based on our experience, requests for a travel exemption to leave Australia are processed faster than requests for exemption to enter Australia, so you can expect to receive a decision in just a couple of days.

Limited number of flights for Australia

Australian Government released a statement on 10 July 2020 and announced that the number of international flights entering Australia will be limited as following:

  • 525 international arrivals in Perth per week,
  • 500 international arrivals in Brisbane per week,
  • 450 international arrivals in Sydney per day.

However, the flexibility of these limitations will only benefit Australian citizens and permanent residents.

The limitations have influenced postponing and canceling flights, so we suggest you to be very careful when booking a flight because it can be easily cancelled due to the aforementioned circumstances.

Having exemption to enter Australia does not mean your flight is guaranteed.

Mandatory quarantine for everyone that comes to Australia

Since the start of the global pandemic, quarantine of 14 days has been mandatory for everyone who comes to Australia. At the beginning the government covered quarantine costs, but this changed in July and now individuals will have to cover their own quarantine costs.

Upon landing at the airport, the person undergoes all the necessary procedures and is directed and transported to a place (usually a hotel) where they have to stay in quarantine for the next 14 days. The fee covers the costs of regular meals and linen/cleaning services.

Quarantine expenses are around AUD$ 2,500-3,000 and they usually need to be paid within 30 days of the invoice date, that is after the quarantine period, and these costs can usually be paid in installments.

The person can be exempt from paying the quarantine on different grounds. You can find information about this on the official website of the Australian state/territory you are staying in.

We note that not all Australian states/territories charge the quarantine. Some of them allow self-isolation at home, but this can easily change.

Confidentiality and inconsistency in processing requests

In this article we have tried to explain the majority of rules that are in force regarding entering or leaving Australia by relying on the information that was published on the Department of Home Affairs website as well as on our professional experience.

However, inconsistencies have been noticed with a large number of requests both by professional organisations of registered migration agents and our own experience.

We, as registered migration agents, have access to lots of information that is usually not available to the public, but the information and instructions the officers need to follow when making decisions about requests to be exempt from travel ban is currently confidential information and the Department of Home Affairs refuses to disclose it.

Our experience and assistance

Since the introduction of the special measures to regulate entering and leaving the country, we have successfully worked on the exemption for Visitor visa subclass 600 and 651 holders, as well as the Prospective Marriage visa subclass 300 holders. In addition we have also successfully worked on exemptions to leave Australia.

If you need assistance to lodge the request for exemption to enter or leave Australia, be free to contact us on some of our available contacts, or schedule a consultation with our registered migration agent here, so you can explain your circumstances and reasons why you are seeking the exemption.

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