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Navigating Australia’s Travel Exemption Process

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On 20 March 2020, Australia closed its international borders and introduced a system that strictly controlled who could enter and depart the country to prevent the spread of COVID-19. International travel into or from Australia is currently only available if you are exempted or you have been granted an individual exemption. 

With recent COVID-19 outbreaks across the country and reduced hotel quarantine places, the Australian Border Force (ABF) have tightened their assessment criteria for travel restriction exemptions and are scrutinising all applications. This particularly applies for:

  • Temporary visa holders who wish to take a short trip outside of Australia before returning to the country; and
  • Australian citizens and permanent residents who are ordinary resident outside of Australia but wish to return to the country for a short trip.

These changes have been made to decrease the number of individuals making frequent overseas trips. The current tightened Travel Restriction Exemption criteria is likely to remain until the Australian population are vaccinated to a level (e.g. 70%) where home quarantine will be permitted for fully vaccinated Australian citizens and permanent residents, or purpose built hotel quarantine facilities are completed.

SIRVA Relocation has assisted with hundreds of Travel Restriction Exemption applications since this requirement was introduced. This includes applications to bring skilled workers into Australia for long- and short-term projects, reuniting family members and allowing Australian residents to undertake meetings overseas.

Please find below a summary of the latest criteria, including recent changes for Australian citizens and permanent residents departing the country:

  • Exemptions for Temporary Visa Holders; and
  • Exemptions for Australian Citizens and Permanent Residents.

Temporary Visa Holders – Inbound Exemptions

According to the Australian Government, Department of Home Affairs, temporary visa holders considered to be automatically exempt from Australia’s current travel restrictions include:

  • An immediate family member of an Australian citizen or permanent resident (a spouse, de-facto partner, child or legal guardian that holds a valid visa);
  • A New Zealand citizen that is usually resident in Australia and their immediate family members;
  • An individual who has been in New Zealand or Australia for 14 days or more immediately prior to arrival by air in Australia;
  • A Business Innovation and Investment Subclass 188 visa holder;
  • A person transiting Australia for 72 hours or less.

If a temporary visa holder is not automatically exempted from Australia’s current travel restrictions, then they will have to apply for an exemption from the Australian Border Force (‘ABF’). The ABF’s policy states that individuals eligible to be granted an exemption include:

  • A foreign national travelling at the invitation of the Australian Government or a state or territory government authority for the purpose of assisting in the COVID-19 response; 
  • A foreign national whose entry into Australia would be in the national interest, supported by the Australian Government or a state or territory government authority;
  • Providing critical or specialist medical services, including air ambulance, medical evacuations and delivering critical medical supplies;
  • A foreign national with critical skills or working in a critical sector in Australia; 
  • A foreign national sponsored by your employer to work in Australia in an occupation on the Priority Migration Skilled Occupation List (PMSOL)
  • Students who have been selected to take part in an International Student Arrivals Plan that has been approved by the relevant state or territory government; and
  • Those travelling for compassionate and compelling reasons.

An individual must be granted an exemption to Australia’s travel restrictions and hold a valid visa before they travel to the country. Applications can be made through the ABF’s online exemption portal and relevant supporting documents should be provided. 

Recent Updates

The Australian government has recently removed additional restrictions for individuals based in India and PNG. Individuals from these countries can now travel to Australia by being granted an exemption under the above criteria, including critical skills. 

Vaccination Information

The ABF has started to request information in the travel restriction exemption application on whether an individual has been vaccinated (and if so, when, what type and how many doses). While this is not part of the current assessment criteria, it may be taken into consideration in the future.

Temporary Visa Holders – Outbound Exemptions

Temporary visa holders are able to depart Australia at any time.

However, if the temporary visa holder is seeking to leave the country and then return to Australia, they are encouraged to apply for an inbound exemption before they depart. These exemptions will then only be granted in the following very limited circumstances:

  • The 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 supported by relevant documentary evidence, for example:
    • Attending the funeral of a close family member overseas, visiting a close family member who is seriously or critically ill, or seeking necessary medical treatment not available in Australia; or
  • Their travel is essential for business purposes.

In the event that a temporary visa holder departs Australia before being granted an inbound exemption, when they do apply for an exemption from offshore, they will need to provide documents and explanation to address the following:

  • Why it is critical for the individual to return to Australia;
  • Why they did not request a pre-emptive travel request prior to departing Australia; and
  • Why if it is critical for the client to be onshore, why did they depart Australia recently.  

Australian Citizen and Permanent Residents – Inbound Exemptions

Australian citizens and permanent residents are automatically exempted from Australia’s inbound travel restrictions.

Australian Citizen and Permanent Residents – Outbound Exemptions

For Australian citizens or permanent residents to depart Australia, they need to be granted an outbound exemption by satisfying one of the following criteria:

  • Their travel is part of the official response to the COVID-19 outbreak;
  • Their travel is for their business/employer;
  • They are travelling to receive urgent medical treatment that is not available in Australia;
  • They are travelling outside Australia for a compelling reason for three months or longer;
  • They are travelling on compelling or compassionate grounds;
  • Their travel is in the national interest; or
  • They are ordinarily resident in a country other than Australia.

Ordinary Resident in a Country other than Australia

From 11 August 2021, Australian citizens and permanent residents whose primary residence is in a country outside Australia will not be automatically exempted from Australia’s outward travel restrictions. From this date, they will need to apply for an exemption through the ABF’s online exemption portal and provide documents that evidence they are usually resident overseas. Evidence can include foreign government issued documentation, evidence of an established and settled home overseas or evidence they are employed overseas. 

There are transitional arrangements in place until 7 September 2021 for individuals affected by this change and who arrive at an Australian airport without an approved exemption. In these circumstances, an ABF officer will check to see if their status as an ordinarily resident overseas can be confirmed. They will then be advised that for future travel they will need to apply for an exemption in advance through the travel exemptions portal.

Case Studies

SIRVA Relocation has assisted with hundreds of Travel Restriction Exemption applications since this requirement was introduced. Please find below some examples of successful travel exemption applications submitted by SIRVA on behalf of our clients. We work with our clients to determine the best strategy on a case by case basis:

  • A Customer service manager was granted a travel exemption in order to assist with the establishment of a call centre in Australia (first call centre for the business outside of the US).   The company operates in the emerging technology sector (Artificial Intelligence) which is a priority sector for the Australian government.   The Customer service manager was needed to train new centre staff who are local Australian hires. Evidence of the company’s patents/proprietary technology and the individual’s advanced proprietary knowledge of their product (not available in Australia) was provided by SIRVA
  • An allied health hearing care provider was granted a travel exemption for their new temporary visa holder. The services provided by our client include hearing assessments, hearing aid prescription and fitting, and rehabilitation for individuals with hearing impairments. Over the years it has become increasingly difficult to recruit Hearing Specialists (Audiometrist or Audiologist) in Australia. Moreover, the role was based in regional Australia making local recruitment even more difficult. SIRVA was able to successfully obtain the travel exemption in this situation 
  • SIRVA helped to secure four pre-emptive inwards travel exemptions for an accomplished Veterinarian who has multiple business and research interests across South East Asia. As a specialised Veterinarian practitioner and training educator in Australia, her work in Australia was deemed critical (albeit not the holder of a primary 482 visa).   Submissions were made to evidence the applicant’s international reputation, offshore business interests, research collaboration with Australian stakeholders, along with her on-going critical work in Australia. 

The current travel restriction exemption application criteria is complex and constantly changing. If you have any questions or would like to discuss whether you are eligible, please contact the SIRVA Immigration team using this link.

About the author 

This article was written by Stephen Hall, Senior Immigration Consultant at SIRVA. Stephen has worked in the Australian immigration law profession since 2007. He has extensive experience across all visa categories, specialising in employer sponsored visas and assisting companies with their Australian visa programs. Stephen has been responsible for managing the immigration programs of a wide variety of Australian and multinational companies across all industries. He has significant experience advising and supporting clients with strategic advice on corporate immigration, international and intra-company transfers. Stephen is passionate about partnering with companies to advise on the efficiency of their immigration programs, creating processes to guarantee their compliance with their sponsorship obligations and ensuring the smooth running of all visa applications, high-profile projects and VIP moves. Stephen has experience with assisting Australian companies with negotiating labour agreements with the Department of Home Affairs, as well as advocating on his clients behalf for changes to the requirements and criteria for both temporary and permanent work visas. SIRVA Worldwide Relocation and Moving is a global leader in moving and relocation services, offering solutions for mobility programs to companies of every size. With 59 owned locations and over 900 franchised and agent locations in 177 countries, we offer unmatched global breadth supported by localized attention and innovative technology that strikes the right balance of self service and human support. From relocation to household goods and commercial moving and storage, our portfolio of Brands (SIRVA, Team Relocations, Allied, northAmerican, & SMARTBOX) provides the only integrated moving/relocation solution in the industry. By leveraging our global network, we deliver a superior experience that only a “one-stop shop” can provide.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: ImmiAdvisor recommends you obtain your own independent immigration, legal, accounting, financial or taxation advice as appropriate. It is solely your responsibility to evaluate the accuracy, completeness and usefulness of all information provided through this blog/website. In no event will ImmiAdvisor Pty Ltd or the author of this article be liable to you or anyone else for any decision made or action taken by you or anyone else in reliance upon any information contained on or omitted from this blog/website. Immigration law is complex and is subject to constant regulatory and policy change.  The information provided here may therefore be outdated and no longer accurate.  The information provided above is a general guide only – it is not tailored for your specific circumstances or immigration purposes and you must under no circumstances rely on this information for immigration planning or the lodgement of an application with the Australian government or related bodies.  In order to ensure your eligibility is accurately assessed and to allow for tactical decision making that would best suit your desired immigration outcome, it is essential that you consult with a capable immigration advisor registered with the relevant body.

The information provided herein is of a general nature only, is subject to change without notice and does not constitute legal advice. For more detailed and case specific information or advice, please contact the visa team at SIRVA Relocation

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