Strict travel restrictions have been applied in Australia this year due to the COVID-19 outbreak. While travel exemptions are tricky to secure, they’re not impossible in the right circumstances and with the right support.
Australia’s borders are very gradually re-opening with certain categories of non-citizens being cleared to apply for travel permission when they fall into one of the exempt categories – such as travellers whose presence in Australia is in the national interest, business people with critical skills or who support specific critical sectors.
Travel exemptions can still be applied for by businesses and employees who fall within the permitted grounds to apply for an exemption, with processing times estimated at 2-3 weeks. Travellers must also hold a valid visa for entry into Australia.
However, even if a situation falls within one of the grounds for a travel exemption, success is not necessarily guaranteed. Requests are assessed individually and approved based on merit. For this reason, it’s important to become familiar with the requirements and how these applications are being assessed by the Department as things are changing day by day.
Tip 1 – Understand and choose which travel exemption pathway you fall under
Currently, there are several situations for which travel exemptions can be granted, and these are being updated frequently. When applying for a travel exemption, you will be required to select which exemption category you fall under. Some of these include:
- Foreign nationals assisting with the COVID-19 response by invitation from the Australian Government
- Providing critical or specialist medical services
- Skills critical to maintaining the supply of goods or services in Australia, including medical technology, critical infrastructure, supply chain logistics, aged care, agriculture, primary industry, food production, the maritime industry telecommunications, engineering and mining, agricultural technology, and others
- Sectors critical to the national economy, including financial technology, large scale manufacturing, and emerging technology
- Compassionate and compelling reasons to travel, including due to death or critical illness
- Providing critical skills in religious or theology fields
- Sponsored by an employer to work in Australia in an occupation on the Priority Migration Skilled Occupation List (PMSOL)
- A person whose entry would otherwise be in Australia’s national interest
An application will likely be delayed or even refused if an applicant applies under the incorrect category. For example, if your occupation is on the Priority Skilled Occupation List, then it would be important to apply under that designation rather than any of the others.
Also, ensure that you are not eligible to travel under one of the exempt categories – for example, a holder of a Business Innovation and Investment (subclass 188) visa is not required to apply for travel permission, they are automatically exempt from the border restrictions and can travel without requesting approval.
More information about these travel exemption categories and their requirements can be read here.
Tip 2 – Include sufficient evidence addressing the current assessment criteria
The Department of Home Affairs remains highly discretionary with travel exemption decisions since COVID-19 began.
From 20 March to 31 July this year, around 13,000 applications were approved for temporary residents to enter the country, from a total of just under 60,000 lodgements. When separated into categories, applicants were most likely to receive visas for compassionate reasons (however, only 2,377 applications were approved out of a total of 38,047 applications), critical skills (2,008 approved out of 9,860 applications), and critical medical skills (539 visas approved). Students and other non-medical employees had the fewest visas granted during that time period.
Here’s what we’ve learned from working on these cases over the past few months that is essential for a positive outcome:
- Intent to return
Several risk factors are being considered as part of the Australian Border Force’s assessment of travel exemption requests, one of which is the traveller’s reasons for returning to Australia.
For example, if there is no urgent or critical need and a person declines to return to Australia after several Government warnings for nationals to return because of the outbreak, then a request may not be granted. It’s important to note that these sorts of timelines or circumstances can be taken into consideration.
In a recent case, an American national had applied for a travel exemption to travel to Australia with his Australian spouse after spending time at their holiday home in the US. In this case, the application was not approved. However, we assisted another US client who had skills essential to the training of surgeons for critical procedures in New South Wales and was successful in his application through the critical skill and sector pathway.
- Skill and sector requirements
The skill and sector categories that qualify for travel exemptions were selected because of their contribution to the country’s pandemic recovery. Applications in which this connection isn’t clear may have less success.
We have had successful results for business travellers including those working for healthcare, medical technology, ICT, financial services, logistics, and insurance companies. Examples include employees with technical skills working in critical sectors, with knowledge of medical products or technology, or senior leaders with critical skills and expertise. For example, we helped a client who was granted an exemption on the basis that she had technical knowledge of a medical product and was needed to support the training and implementation of that device in the Australian market. Another client and her family were approved to travel to Australia to take up a leadership position in a financial organisation directly tied to Australia’s COVID-19 economic recovery.
In these cases, we organised strong supporting evidence and support letters from regulators and industry bodies to give weight to the applications. Emphasis was made that no Australian employee could undertake the same role.
- Married and de facto couples
In several cases, we’ve found that travel exemptions are not always granted to married couples and de facto couples, where one partner is an Australian citizen, permanent resident, or an eligible New Zealand citizen. Partners can apply if they are married or in a de facto relationship, otherwise, they must apply on the basis of compelling or compassionate circumstances which is a very high threshold to meet.
The ABF will consider a number of factors, including whether the couple is married or in a de facto relationship, and whether they ordinarily reside in Australia. Holding a spouse or partner visa does not automatically ensure travel for a partner.
Tip 3 – If unsuccessful, keep trying
There is no limit to the number of exemption requests that can be lodged – so if you’re unsuccessful, keep trying, and get professional assistance to increase your chances of approval.
Want to lodge for a travel exemption, but are unsure if you have a case? Contact The Migration Agency for a consultation and our experts can assist you.