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Immigration Update: Quarantine Costs, Visa Processing, Border Closure & Travel Exemptions (COVID-19)

Updated: Jul 31, 2020

Updated 3rd July 2020

Australia’s border is closed to all international travellers and the government has indicated it will remain so until 2021. There have been suggestions that those coming for long-term work purposes could have the same safe-guards extended to them as are currently in place for returning citizens. It is unlikely that quarantine costs will be paid by the state governments if this occurs.

At the end of March, the Federal Government implemented 14 days quarantine in a mandated hotel at the government’s expense. Now, state governments are considering making new arrivals pay for their own hotel quarantine. This is being addressed on a state by state basis: 

The Queensland Government has announced that:

  • It will start charging returned overseas travellers for quarantining in government arranged accommodation from 1st July;

  • Adults will be charged $2800 for the 14-day stay, which includes $910 for food, couples will be charged $3710 and a family of four will be charged $4620;

  • Returning travellers also won’t be able to arrange to self-quarantine at home or at another pre-booked accommodation.

The New South Wales, South Australia and Western Australian governments have not yet announced any similar plans but have indicated travellers will need to start thinking about covering quarantine costs. 

After a recent spike in cases, the Victorian government announced this week that it will not take any more overseas flights / travellers. New South Wales has responded that it will not accept any flights originally destined for Victoria leaving uncertainty where these flights will land.

The Australian Capital Territory (ACT) Govt has announced it will be splitting the quarantine costs of the student pilot programme with the Australian National University.


Visa Processing

The Department is advising that:

  • visa applications should not be lodged until after the latest travel information has been checked; and

  • visa processing times have been affected and applications may take longer to finalise. As a priority, the Department is processing visa applications for travellers who are exempt from our travel restrictions to support urgent travel.

Given the above, the processing times on the Department cannot be relied on. We foresee there being a large back log of applications and an associated impact on processing times once the borders reopen. Knowing this, we are still preparing and lodging applications where this is appropriate. 

We understand the Department is looking for strong evidence regarding the labour market testing and genuine position criteria for the Temporary Skills Shortage (TSS) visa to clearly demonstrate that the visa will not deprive an Australian of the work. Any applications which are prepared and lodged therefore must include clear persuasive evidence regarding this. 


Exemptions to Travel

Reports reveal that arrivals to Australia have decreased by around 97% over the same period in 2019. 

While the borders are closed, the only way to enter or depart Australia, is with a special exemption. Such exemptions are granted at the Commissioner of the Australian Border Force’s personal discretion. 

This week, the Department of Home Affairs revealed that it received a total of 40,147 requests for travel exemptions from persons seeking to enter Australia, during the period 20 March to 3 June 2020. Requests for exemption came from immediate family members of Australian citizens and permanent resident holders, temporary visa holders and persons who did not hold any visa or wanted to transit through the country. 

According to the Department, of those reviewed by the ABF Commissioner, 514 were approved for applicants possessing critical skills and 263 of people possessing critical skills in the field of medicine. 


What does this mean for your employees? 

Australian citizens and permanent residents are not required to apply for an exemption to leave Australia if they are able to demonstrate that they are ordinarily resident overseas or if their travel is associated with essential work at offshore facilities. 

Temporary visa holders wanting to leave Australia do not need a travel exemption to depart. However, if they wanted to subsequently return to Australia, they would need an exemption to enter Australia as discussed above. 


Inbound travel exemptions for non-Australian citizens/permanent residents

The grounds on which a travel exemption application can be made:

  • People with critical skills e.g. medical specialists, engineers, marine pilots & crews

  • Business Leaders

  • New Zealand citizens usually resident in Australia 

  • Immediate family members of Australian citizens or permanent resident

  • Critical medical services, including air ambulance and medical supplies 

  • Case by case exemptions on compassionate grounds. 

Outbound travel exemptions for Australian citizens/permanent residents: 

  • For travel that is part of the response to COVID-19 e.g. the provision of aid

  • For travel that is essential for the conduct of business and critical industries (including export and import industries)

  • For urgent medical assistance that is not available in Australia

  • On compassionate or humanitarian grounds

  • Urgent or unavoidable personal business

  • For travel in the national interest 


Key Points to Consider

  • Businesses with a critical need for a travel exemption must carefully consider the grounds on which they will apply and provide sufficient supporting materials. 

  • Online applications for exemptions to travel are assessed initially by the Commissioner Discretions team. The process is complex and an insufficient evidence to support the application or prima facie not meeting one of the categories for consideration, could result in the application not making it to the ABF Commissioner. Limits on the amount of information that can be uploaded to support an application add to the difficulty of ensuring that an application contains sufficient evidence to be persuasive. Industry feedback is that making multiple applications for permission to enter is not uncommon.  

  • Advice of the Migration Institute of Australia (MIA) is that any application for permission to enter should be accompanied with an undertaking that the entrant will cover the quarantine costs as this makes the decision whether or not to grant the visa cost neutral. 

Note: There are currently some domestic border restrictions in place. See here for more information.


If you have any questions regarding a visa application or travel exemption, our visa team is very happy to assist.

Margrit Dutton – MARN 1684893

Susan Stinson – MARN 1383173

This content of this article is general in nature and does not constitute professional advice.


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