Navigating the current COVID-19 restrictions and travel exemptions to enter Australia

As Australia tentatively steps towards resuming a new normal, there’s no question that there’s still a lot of trepidation around the strict border measures currently in place.

As such, international travel to and from Australia without exemptions has been limited. Updates on the current travel restrictions will be subject to the Commissioner’s Guidelines and Operation Directives.

As your migration lawyers, we’ve collated the latest information on travel exemptions for your understanding.

What is a travel exemption?

With nationwide travel restrictions in place, a ‘travel exemption’ grants individuals and families the permission to exit or re-enter Australia. You cannot enter Australia unless you are in an exempt category or have been granted an individual exemption to the current travel restrictions.

Automatic travel exemption categories

According to the Australian Government Department of Home Affairs, an individual travel exemption is not needed for entering Australia if you are:

  • An Australian citizen
  • A permanent resident of Australia
  • An immediate family member of an Australian citizen or permanent resident*
  • A New Zealand citizen usually resident in Australia and their immediate family members
  • A person who has been in New Zealand for 14 days or more immediately prior to arrival by air in Australia
  • a diplomat accredited to Australia, including their immediate family members (each member of the family unit must hold a valid subclass 995 visa)
  • A person transiting Australia for 72 hours or less
  • Airline crew, maritime crew including marine pilots
  • A person recruited under the Government approved Seasonal Worker Program or Pacific Labour Scheme
  • A person who holds a Business Innovation and Investment (subclass 188) visa

Please refer to the Inwards Travel Restrictions Operation Directive for further details on the travel exemption categories.

*If you hold a temporary visa or do not yet hold a valid visa for Australia, you will be required to provide proof of your relationship to the Department prior to travelling. Please find further information here.

Applying for an individual exemption, and for compassionate and compelling reasons

If you do not fall in the exemption categories above, you may be able to apply for an individual exemption online. To complete your request, you should hold a visa, or have applied for a visa, and be able to provide all the necessary information and documents to support your exemption application.

The individual exemption request also applies if you are wanting to travel for compassionate and compelling reasons, such as the death or critical illness of a close family member.

You will need to apply for the travel exemption at least two weeks, but not more than two months, before your planned travel date. The success of your travel exemption application will be determined by the Commissioner of the Australian Border Force.

You must hold a visa and have an exemption to Australia’s travel restrictions prior to travel. You can apply for your individual travel exemption here.   

What are the types of situations that may be successful in being exempted for travel?

Subject to the approval of the Commissioner of the Australian Border Force, the Australian Government Department of Home Affairs has outlined their individual exemptions criteria for inbound travel.

You may be entitled to an individual exemption for travel into Australia if you are:

  • A non-citizen 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 non-citizen 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
  • Providing critical skills or working in a critical sector in Australia – see critical skills and sectors
  • Sponsored by your employer to work in Australia in a Priority Migration Skilled Occupation List (PMSOL) approved occupation
  • Military personnel, including those who are part of the Status of Forces Agreement, Commonwealth Armed Forces, Asia Pacific Forces and Status of Armed Forces Agreement
  • A person who resides on a vessel that seeks safe port for reprovisioning or safety reasons for a limited duration, supported by the local State or Territory government where relevant
  • A student completing year 11 and 12, with endorsement from the federal Department of Education, Skills and Employment (DESE) and; support from the relevant Australian State or Territory government health authority and education department – refer to the Department of Education, Skills and Employment website for further information
  • A student completing your final two years of study of a medical, dental, nursing or allied health profession university degree, with evidence of a confirmed placement in an Australian hospital or medical practice which begins within the next two months.
  • Travelling for compassionate and compelling reasons

Why you should engage a migration/immigration lawyer to assist with your travel exemption application

With the ever-changing conditions, the M Legal team is diligently staying abreast of the latest advice from the Department of Home Affairs and Australian Department of Health. Keeping you informed, and always working in your best interests, we can assist you through your travel exemption application process.

Whether you’re wanting to make future travel arrangements or applying for an Australian visa, we strongly encourage you to consult with us prior to getting started. Tailored to your individual situation, we’ll provide you with the transparency and accountability you need during these times of uncertainty.

As your immigration experts, we’ll address all your concerns and questions for peace of mind, guiding you the whole way through. For more information on travel exemptions or applying for your Australian visa, please contact us by calling 0490 697 090 today.

As we enter a new phase of COVID-19, there are more uncertain times ahead for all of us.  From an immigration perspective, tighter measures are being enforced by Australia’s border security and we urge travelers in and out of the country, to consult with immigration experts if they have concerns or questions about their migration situation.

It is important we share the right information given that government policy is changing rapidly and is having a far-reaching impact on individual movement.

What we do know

  • There are travel bans for those who are arriving (and transiting) from Mainland China, Iran, South Korea, and Italy.  Australian citizens and permanent residents traveling from these countries are exempted from this ban.
  • If you are arriving in Australia from any other country, you are required to self-isolate for 14 days.  Heavy penalties will apply in some States if you do not abide by this guideline;
  • International cruise ships are banned from arriving in Australia for the next 30 days
  • If you are an on-shore tourist visa holder wishing to extend your stay, the Department has put into place some arrangements to grant extensions.  Please contact M Legal should you be considering to extend your stay.    

What we don’t know

  • As the government diverts resources to dealing with the COVID-19 migration matters, it is undetermined whether this will have a major impact on other visa categories processing timeframes
  • If there could be a response by the government to slow down the grant of all temporary visas for individuals applying off-shore
  • What other travel bans are on-foot and will be implemented soon

We highly recommend that you consult M Legal before making travel arrangements or apply for a visa for Australia.  We continue to stay abreast of the latest advice from both the Australian Department of Health and NSW Health as well as the Department of Home Affairs so that we can inform our clients accordingly.

On behalf of everyone in M Legal, we hope you and your family stay safe.