Australia has been restricted to international travellers for more than a year. However, many people don’t realise that inbound travel for skilled workers and families separated due to Covid-19 is still possible with a travel exemption.
Here we’ll discuss what businesses and individuals need to know about travel exemptions along with case studies of those who have successfully received one.
Who qualifies for a travel exemption?
Travel exemptions fall into two main categories.
- Automatically exempt persons
This includes people who are automatically exempt, such as Australian citizens, permanent residents, immediate family members of citizens and residents, diplomats, people in transit, subclass 188 visa holders, crew members, and certain government-approved workers.
- Individual exemptions
Individual exemptions refer to certain situations where a person may be considered exempt based on their circumstances and they have to apply for approval.
Broadly, this category includes people coming to Australia to help with the COVID-19 response, foreign nationals invited by the government, medical specialists, critical skills workers, workers in critical sectors, foreign nationals with occupations on the PMSOL list, military personnel, students who meet certain criteria, and those travelling for compassionate or compelling reasons.
Case studies: TMA successfully securing travel exemptions during the pandemic
Many firms large and small are telling clients it’s not possible to bring staff from overseas at this time, but our experience proves otherwise. Our team can interpret the border policies and guidelines and deeply understand the client’s business and circumstances to create compelling arguments for travel exemptions – whether your occupation is on the PMSOL list or not. In fact, most of our travel exemption cases have been successful by preparing a strong business case outlining how a person or business has critical skills to support Australians through the pandemic recovery phase. Our approval rating is also very high for critical workers.
Case Study #1 – Allied Health Services Business
The business: This is an allied health company that provides a range of allied health, workplace rehabilitation, and employment services across key industries, such as the NDIS, Workers Compensation, Health, Injury Prevention and Aged Care.
The issue: Australia has a shortage of rehabilitation and occupational therapy professionals, and the demand is very high – the need increased further due to COVID-19 as many people were isolated and less mobile. We helped this client fill critical skill gaps from overseas to work in their business in Australia with candidates that would qualify for a travel exemption and an Australian work visa.
TMA’s approach: Unsurprisingly, many Australian employers and skilled candidates look at the list of priority occupations and assume they can’t come to Australia if a job isn’t on the list. However, when there is a need for allied health professionals, such as occupational therapists, physiotherapists and speech therapists, TMA was able to build a compelling case to demonstrate that need. Whilst the criteria for getting a travel exemption approved was initially unprecedented and reliant on a loose set of guidelines, we overcame this by providing extensive research to show how the client was playing a critical role to support Australians, particularly vulnerable members of the Australian community such as the elderly or people with a disability. This involved taking an evidence-based approach, conducting thorough research into the skills shortages and impact on the community, and explaining why the company needed specialists from abroad.
The outcome: TMA secured travel exemptions and work visas for multiple occupational therapists. After earning this client’s trust, we’ve continued to help this client to grow their business and gain an advantage in a very competitive employment market.
Case Study #2 – Re-Insurance Company
The business: This organisation is a re-insurance company that makes investments in Australia to reduce risk in the insurance sector.
The issue: The client needed the Chief Investment Officer to come to Australia from overseas since he was overseeing their national investment strategy. The government will grant exemptions for people who are coming to assist with Australia’s economic recovery following COVID-19, which fitted with this individual’s role and purpose.
TMA’s approach: To obtain an exemption for this executive, TMA emphasised his seniority, experience, and focus on helping Australian businesses and reducing credit risk in the economy through investments and consulting. Re-insurance companies are designed to stabilise financial institutions during economic upheaval, so we had many strong points to draw on for getting this exemption approved.
The outcome: This individual’s exemption was approved within two days. The process from start to finish including the travel exemption and short term work visa application took about one week.
Case Study #3 – Obtaining an exemption for compassionate reasons
The situation: Our client is an Australian resident who had a partner from Vietnam. She had a short-term tourist visa that expired as COVID-19 began, so she had to return to Vietnam right before the travel restrictions were put in place.
The issue: Generally, you need to live with an Australian resident for 12 months, be married, or register your relationship with the state or territory government to qualify for a partner visa and a travel exemption as a partner of an Australian resident. These options weren’t a possibility for this individual, and Western Australia doesn’t allow relationship registrations – so the path forward was tricky.
TMA’s approach: We focused on proving the four factors in the relationship that the government requires for a partner visa: household, finances, correspondence, and mutual commitment. Our approach was to identify the date when they could qualify as being in a long-term partnership, and gather all the information we could to demonstrate that this was a committed long-distance relationship even though they could not show that they had lived together for the majority of the time they had been in the relationship.
The outcome: The exemption was approved and the happy couple was reunited in Perth. The travel exemption was not approved in the first instance; this is a very subjective travel exemption pathway with a lower approval rate than other categories. However, we persevered and provided additional evidence of compelling and compassionate circumstances to meet the Government’s criteria. We were very happy to help bring this couple together during a time when so many families are forced to be apart.
The applicant has subsequently applied for and been granted an Australian partner visa.
Possible expansions to the travel exemption pathways
A recent interim report into Australia’s skilled migration program includes recommendations for expanding the travel exemptions. Relevantly, the recent report includes the following recommendations:
- That the Priority Migration Skilled Occupation List be expanded urgently to include Chefs, Veterinarians, Café and Restaurant Managers and Seafarers,
- That the Department of Home Affairs conduct an urgent review of the Priority Migration Skilled Occupation List, in consultation with relevant stakeholders, with a view to expanding the number of occupations to better reflect the urgent skills shortages in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic recovery. The Department should give particular consideration to civil engineers, electrical engineers, motor mechanics, cooks, carpenters, electricians, and other roles in the hospitality, health, trades, agriculture, and manufacturing sectors.
Further, officials are looking into options where sponsored workers who are already here will be able to bring their family members to Australia.
If the categories of the priority occupation list are expanded, then individuals in those additional occupations would be able to bring their immediate family members here on a travel exemption. Currently, families who are subclass 482 visa holders qualify for travel exemption if the family member is already working in Australia and their occupation is on the PMSOL. Without changes, someone who is working in any other occupation might return home – taking their valuable skills and talent with them – instead of staying in-country. The possible expansion indicates that it may be possible to reunite more families than risk losing valuable workers.
TMA can help with your travel exemption needs
As the above case studies demonstrate, you don’t always need a clear-cut case to successfully get an exemption. TMA can build a compelling application whether you’re looking for a business or personal travel exemption. We are also happy to offer second opinions to businesses and individuals who have not been able to secure a travel exemption or those who have been advised that their situation would not qualify for an exemption. Please contact us today for help.