It almost went unnoticed…almost!
On 1st August 2021, our Minister for Health and Aged Care, Greg Hunt, amended the Biosecurity Act 2015, which could have serious ramifications for many Australian expats, both those who are currently in Australia visiting friends or family, or those looking to head back for a trip.
In simple terms, this amendment to the act, will stop Australian citizens and residents from automatically being allowed to return to their normal country of residence, whether that be Singapore or elsewhere. This change comes into effect from Wednesday 11th August 2021.
The Biosecurity (Human Coronavirus with Pandemic Potential) Amendment (No. 1) Determination 2021 (the Amendment Determination) makes an amendment to the Biosecurity (Human Biosecurity Emergency) (Human Coronavirus with Pandemic Potential) (Overseas Travel Ban Emergency Requirements) Determination 2020 (Overseas Travel Ban Determination), which outlines that an Australian citizen or Permanent Resident (PR) can not leave Australia unless they have an exemption in place.
Other than an exemption, if the citizen or PR has exceptional circumstances, then an Australian Border Force (ABF) employee or the Commissioner may grant an exemption.
What are the current rules?
The current rules allow for both Australian citizens and PRs who are ordinarily resident in another country to be automatically excluded from needing an exemption to leave Australia. For example, an Australian citizen who normally lives in Singapore and has been visiting friends or family in Australia, would under the current rules be free to leave Australia and head back to Singapore, assuming they could get a flight of course.
It’s important to note here that the Overseas Travel Ban Determination, which allowed those ordinarily resident elsewhere to leave automatically, has been in place since March 2020. Mr Hunt believes that Australian expats have had sufficient time to leave Australia and get back to their country of residence, as the intention of this rule was not to allow free travel with Australia.
What is the reason for the change?
Within the Explanatory Statement for the amendment, several key reasons are outlined as the rationale for this rule change, including:
- Allowing room on repatriation flights for those who are genuinely stuck in other countries, which DFAT estimates is 30,000 to 40,000, with the majority stuck in India.
- Ensuring the availability of quarantine facilities for those returning to Australia and prioritising this for those stuck outside of Australia.
- Reduce the risks of Covid-19 being brought into Australia from other countries, both within and outside of quarantine.
How can I apply for an exemption to leave Australia?
The Australian Government has stipulated that it would prefer people to be vaccinated being applying for travel exemptions to leave Australia, however they have not specified that anyone not vaccinated would be automatically rejected.
The key travel exemptions that are typically approved are as follows:
- your travel is as part of the response to the COVID-19 outbreak, including the provision of aid
- your travel is for your business or employer
- you are travelling to receive urgent medical treatment that is not available in Australia
- you are travelling on compassionate or compelling grounds
- you are travelling for urgent or unavoidable personal business
- your travel is in the national interest.
You can apply for a travel exemption at this link here.
For those seeking to travel to Australia, where possible, we’d certainly suggest aiming to get your exemptions in place ahead of your trip and ensure that you have all of the required documentation in place. It is currently unclear how easy or difficult it will be for Australian expats to approve their exemption applications to leave the country.
Unfortunately, while this amendment may have been implemented with good intentions, the ramifications will be far-reaching for many who may currently be serving quarantine in an Australian hotel, visiting family or friends and currently in Australia, or those who may have been planning to head back home for Christmas.