International Practice Spotlight: Australia

Since March 20, 2020, Australia’s international borders have been closed. These restrictions, announced by Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, were in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. From that date, only a very limited number of travelers have been permitted to enter Australia. Currently, unless an exemption applies, generally speaking, only the following are permitted to travel to Australia:

  • Australian citizens
  • Australian permanent residents
  • New Zealand citizens normally resident in Australia
  • Immediate family members of Australian citizens and permanent residents

In this International Practice Spotlight, EIG Australia Senior Manager Martin Russell outlines the status for travel to and from Australia, exemptions, and visa processing.

Given the dynamic nature of the Australian State and Federal Governments’ response to COVID-19, Erickson Immigration Group will continue to share updates as more news is available. If you have questions about anything we’re reporting or case-specific questions, please contact your employer or EIG attorney.


Who Can Secure an Exemption to Enter Australia?

The following individuals may be granted an exemption to the current border closures:

  • a foreign national traveling at the invitation of the Australian Government or a state or territory government authority to assist in the COVID-19 response;
  • a foreign national with critical skills or working in a critical sector in Australia;
  • a foreign national sponsored by their employer to work in Australia in an occupation on the Priority Migration Skilled Occupation List (PMSOL);
  • a foreign national traveling for compassionate and compelling reasons

Please note that this list is not exhaustive – for additional potential exemptions, please contact your EIG attorney.

In addition to the travel exemption, a valid visa is also required to travel to Australia.

Even if a visa and travel exemption is approved, a huge hurdle currently facing travelers is obtaining flight tickets. This is a result of the cap on international passenger arrivals. For example, the New South Wales Government recently reduced the number of those permitted to arrive in Sydney from overseas to 750 each week until the State’s vaccination targets are met. This leads to a scarcity of seats on aircraft and, as a result, fares exceeding 15 times their normal cost. It also means that people who previously had confirmed seats are advised at the last minute that they would no longer be able to travel. We are seeing the earliest available bookings for flights to Australia from some countries as far out as mid-December 2021. This clearly has huge implications for business, and the uncertainty limits any planning carried out.


Traveling to Australia

Those traveling to Australia must be tested for COVID-19 72 hours or less before the scheduled flight departure and display evidence of a negative test result at the time of check-in. COVID-19 PCR testing is required.

Passengers and crew on all international flights must wear a face mask during their flight and while in an Australian airport.

With very few exceptions, travelers arriving in Australia must go into government-approved mandatory quarantine (normally a hotel) for 14 days from arrival. This is at the travelers’ own expense, and costs vary from State to State.

Individuals must quarantine in the city they arrive in for 14 days, even if they plan to travel elsewhere in Australia.  Once the quarantine has been completed, they may travel within Australia in line with State and Territory domestic travel restrictions, which may include further quarantine requirements.


Departing Australia

Given the above international border closures, changes have also been made for those wishing to depart Australia.

Australian citizens and permanent residents are not permitted to leave Australia unless an exemption has been granted. To be granted an exemption, one of the following must apply:

  • the overseas travel is part of the response to the COVID-19 outbreak, including the provision of aid
  • the overseas travel is for work/business purposes
  • the travel is for a compelling reason for three months or longer
  • the traveler is ordinarily resident in a country other than Australia

Temporary visa holders in Australia can depart Australia at any time without first seeking an exemption; however, they will generally not be permitted to return to Australia.  Temporary visa holders seeking to leave and then return to Australia may apply for an inwards exemption before they leave. These applications will generally only be approved if the visa applicant meets the requirements for an individual exemption from Australia’s inward travel restrictions, and they have a strong compassionate or compelling reason to leave Australia.


Visa Processing

While it is still possible to apply for visas to travel to Australia, unless a travel exemption has been approved, in most cases, it is highly unlikely that any application will be finalized.

For those individuals in Australia, applications can be lodged to remain as normal (subject to meeting certain requirements).  However, some services relating to the visa application process may be impacted by COVID-19, and a range of services are increasingly unavailable.

This can include BUPA Medical Visa Services, English language testing facilities, and some overseas penal certificate processing offices.  As a result, we are experiencing longer processing times than pre-COVID-19 days – please see here.

MARN: 0101248