Australia’s Pandemic ‘Exit Plan’ Announced

What does Scott Morrison’s plan mean for migrants and their families?

Prime Minister Scott Morrison broke his silence today on what Australia’s road back to normality might look like.

Since March 2020, Australia has largely been closed to the outside world in an effort to contain Coronavirus. In most cases, entry is only possible for permanent residents, citizens and exempt visa holders.

Whilst these restrictions have undoubtedly contributed to Australia’s relatively low case numbers over the last 18 months, the trade-off has been labour shortages across many sectors and the heartbreak of separation for those with family members overseas.

So, what does Australia’s four-stage pathway out of the pandemic look like?

Scott Morrison has announced a four-stage ‘pathway out of current pandemic restrictions’ which will eventually lead to uncapped travel and no quarantine for vaccinated people. Whilst we’re still a long way off that, and no solid timeline has been issued, it means there’s at least a glimmer of hope on the horizon.

Flight caps

Unfortunately, for the time being, international arrival caps will be reduced by 50 per cent whilst the country grapples with outbreaks caused by the Delta variant of the virus. From 14 July 2021, weekly inbound passenger numbers will be capped at 3,035, down from 6,070.

However, the Government has stressed that it does aim to increase the number of repatriation flights available, so this may offset things to some extent.

Travelling during pandemic

Phase one

We’re in phase one right now. With only around seven per cent of Australians fully vaccinated, the focus now is on driving those numbers up.

During this phase, lockdowns should only be used as a last report, the PM said.

A home quarantine trial is set to commence soon for returning passengers who are fully vaccinated and work will be done to set up digital vaccination authentication systems at borders.

The hotel quarantine framework will also be reviewed again.

Phase two

Once a certain percentage of Australians have been vaccinated (no magic number has been given), restrictions, lockdowns and border controls are likely to be eased.

Passenger caps will be restored to previous levels for unvaccinated inbound travellers and, crucially, there will be higher ceiling limits for returning passengers who are fully vaccinated.

More students and economic visa holders will be allowed to enter and quarantine, subject to availability.

Vaccinated residents will face ‘reduced quarantine arrangements’. There’s no indication of what this might look like, but following on from the home quarantine trial in phase one, perhaps returning residents will be given that option.

Phase three

Travel-wise, phase three is where we’ll start to see big changes.

If you’re vaccinated, all outbound travel restrictions will be lifted for you. For the tens of thousands of people with loved ones overseas, this stage can’t come soon enough.

There will be an increase in the number of student, humanitarian and economic visa holders permitted entry into Australia.

Travel bubbles will also be extended. Nothing has been confirmed, but the Government used a potential Singapore bubble as an example.

Lockdowns will be done away with and vaccinated people will receive booster doses and be exempt from domestic travel restrictions.

Phase four

This is where we return to ‘normal’, or as close as possible.

During phase four, the Government said measures could include no caps on inbound vaccinated travellers and no quarantine requirements.

For unvaccinated travellers, there is likely to still be a requirement for pre-flight and post flight testing, at least.

Visa holders and applicants

Despite restrictions and arrival caps, visa holders with exemptions can still enter Australia. Only last week, 22 new occupations were added to the Priority Migration Skilled Occupation List (PMSOL) and employees sponsored in PMSOL roles are able to apply for exemptions. This includes Chefs, Accountants and Civil Engineers.

Over the last month, we have also helped several employers secure exemptions for employees working in the agriculture sector. Although it is certainly not easy to gain entry to Australia at present, it is possible under certain circumstances.

The 50% reduction in arrival numbers announced today isn’t the best news, but we’re hoping this will be offset by the increase in repatriation flights. If this is the case, the overall number of passengers entering Australia may not fall significantly.

We welcome the Government’s commitment to trialling home quarantine and gradually increasing caps on student, economic and humanitarian visa holders. Many Australian employers are experiencing dire labour shortages and inbound skilled migrants are necessary to sustain our economic growth.

Being able to move freely and stay connected with family members overseas is absolutely crucial for Australian citizens and residents, visa holders and future visa applicants. No firm dates have been given, but we certainly hope phase two isn’t too far off.

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