Since the closure of Australia’s international border in March 2020, travel exemptions have been a hot topic.
Only permanent residents and citizens are permitted to freely enter the country, but daily passenger caps, extortionate plane fares and limited routes makes travel impossible for even this cohort.
What about everyone else?
Thousands of temporary residents who were outside of Australia when the border closed are stranded overseas, unable to return to their homes and lives here.
Just a small number of non-PRs and citizens can enter Australia without an exemption, including:
- New Zealand citizens who ordinarily reside here
- Some partner visa holders (subclasses 100, 309, 801, 820)
- Children on certain visas (Subclasses 101, 102, 445)
- People sponsored by Australian employers with occupations on the PMSOL list
If you do fall into one of the categories above, you must ensure you turn up for your flight with sufficient evidence to back your claims up. Failure to do so could mean you’re not allowed to board. TIP: Don’t rely on having digital copies on your phone, print your evidence and have it to hand in a file, ready to show anyone who asks you.
Almost all other temporary residents must apply for an exemption via the Department of Home Affairs’ travel restriction exemption portal.
Using the portal
You can use the portal to submit and then track the progress of your request. Once you’ve lodged a request, you’ll receive an immediate acknowledgement.
Travel restrictions are subject to change without notice, so you should check the Department of Home Affairs’ Covid-19 information page regularly.
The portal enables you to attach supporting documents to your request and provide updates if your situation changes.
Your request can be linked to other requests made by family members.
Once a determination has been made, you’ll be immediately alerted to the outcome.
You’ll start by selecting which of the following categories your request falls into.
Unfortunately, if you do not have a critical skill and you’re a temporary resident applying to return for ‘compassionate and compelling’ reasons, it can be difficult to obtain a positive outcome. Our advice is to simply keep applying.
Why you need to travel
There is a field on the form where you’re given the opportunity to explain why you need to travel to Australia, despite travel restrictions.
Important – you’re limited to the amount of information you can provide here. There’s a 1,000-character limit.
Before starting this question, it’s a good idea to properly plan out what you’re going to say. Eliminate any unnecessary words and keep things simple. Explain why you need to return now, how it impacts you and your family and why you can’t wait until restrictions are lifted. If you have a return ticket booked back or if you’re undergoing any medical treatment in Australia, or have a home and assets here, you can also use this box to mention these.
You also need to be mindful about the restrictions in the individual state or territory you wish to travel to. This may have a bearing on the outcome of your application.
You’ll need to properly substantiate your application with supporting documents.
Your documents must be in English.
There’s an upload limit of 15 MB, so you’ll need to be selective and compress your files if necessary.
If there’s anything you want the decision maker to pay particular attention to, consider circling this information or using a highlighter to draw their attention.
Offshore partners travelling to Australia
If your partner is in Australia and you don’t hold one of the visa subclasses which is exempt from restrictions, you’ll need to substantiate your application with proof of your relationship.
This might include:
- An explanatory statement about your relationship
- Proof of your shared financial commitments
- Evidence that you ordinarily live together
- Evidence of your communication
- Form 888s. These are declarations completed by witnesses in relation to partner visa applications, but may come in useful here
- Proof that you’ve registered your relationship of that you’re married
If you have a visa application pending. For example, you’ve applied for a partner visa but it hasn’t been granted yet, you should include details of that and attach supporting evidence of the visa lodgement.
Our take on this
We deeply sympathise with temporary residents stuck offshore. Many of our clients are caught up in this and thousands of people are have found themselves in incredibly difficult situations. These are people who have established lives, homes, jobs and family members in Australia.
Unfortunately, when it comes to exemptions, it’s not an exact science. The process is somewhat opaque. We don’t have access to the criteria that decision makers are using to guide their determinations.
Believe us when we say, we wish we could write you a fool-proof guide. Exemption applications are not visa applications; you won’t be given a reason for the application’s failure.
We’ve spoken to people who only gained an exemption after trying a dozen times. If you’re knocked back, keep trying, change tack, join a support group on Facebook (there are lots) and ask others in similar situations for advice.
Greens Senator Nick McKim recently raised the issue of exemptions with the Border Force Commissioner at a Covid-19 inquiry. The Border Force Commissioner agreed to review guidelines, but as of yet nothing has been released.
Exemptions are also required for Australian citizens and permanent residents leaving Australia.
You’ll use the same portal to submit your request.
Again, exemption requests are assessed on a case-by-case basis and there’s an element of luck here too.
According to a recent Channel 7 report, there have been over 100,000 requests to leave Australia, with more than 34,000 approvals granted. Almost 11,000 were refused.
The other applications were either withdrawn, did not contain enough supporting information or represented a duplicate request.
The bottom line here is that if you’re a citizen or resident who normally resides here, you’ll need a very pressing reason to depart. There must be a sense of urgency and good reason as to why you can’t delay your plans and hold-off until restrictions ease.
You’ll need to provide details of your travel plans. This doesn’t need to be a booking confirmation, your travel itinerary will do.
In our experience, you’re more likely to achieve a positive outcome if you need to travel for business reasons or to receive urgent medical treatment. The approval rate for ‘compassionate and compelling’ reasons has not been high.
We hope you find this blog post useful. If you’re planning to apply for an Australian visa in the near future, we offer free assessments and can recommend the best pathway for you. For now, stay safe. We wish you the best of luck with your exemption request.