Can I Leave Australia During COVID-19?

The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted the federal government to introduce stringent restrictions on travel into and out of the country. These restrictions are the strictest ever put in place by Australia. Many other countries around the world have also halted international travel despite the World Health Organisation’s advice that such measures are ineffective in slowing the spread of diseases. As the law currently stands, Australians can only leave Australia during COVID-19 if they qualify for an exemption from the ban.

How did the travel ban come about?

On 19 March 2020 Prime Minister Scott Morrison advised Australians not to travel overseas because of the pandemic. Many Australian disregarded the advice in the fortnight that followed, with 16,000 people leaving the country during that time.

On 25 March 2020 an official travel ban was imposed with the passage of the Biosecurity (Human Biosecurity Emergency) (Human Coronavirus with Pandemic Potential) (Overseas Travel Ban Emergency Requirements) Determination 2020.

What are the restrictions?

Section 5 of the Determination states that Australian citizens and permanent residents must not leave Australia unless a general exemption applies or an exemption is granted. It also states that operators of aircraft and vessels must not leave Australian territory with a passenger who is an Australian citizen or permanent resident unless the person has an exemption.

Who can leave Australia during COVID-19?

The following categories of person have a general exemption from the travel ban and do not need to apply for an exemption in order to leave Australia:

  • Those ordinarily resident in another country;
  • Airline and maritime crew;
  • New Zealanders holding a Subclass 444 visa;
  • Those engaged in day to day conduct of freight in and out of the country;
  • Those doing essential work at offshore facilities;
  • Those travelling on official government business.

Applying for an exemption

An exemption may be granted to a person if they propose to undertake overseas travel that is:

  • Essential for critical industries and business;
  • For urgent medical treatment that is not available in Australia;
  • For urgent and unavoidable personal business;
  • In the national interest;
  • Part of the COVID-19 response.

A person may also be able to get an exemption and be permitted to leave Australia on compassionate or humanitarian grounds.

If you need to apply for an exemption from the travel ban on one of the above grounds, you can do so online and this should be done at least 48 hours prior to travelling and not more than three months before the departure date. You should provide evidence of the circumstance on which you are claiming the exemption. This may consist of a letter from your employer explaining why the travel is necessary and the work critical; or a letter from your doctor saying why travel is necessary. Documents in foreign languages must be accompanied by a translation into English.

If granted an exemption, you must take the exemption to the airport with you.

Other countries’ restrictions

Other countries have also implemented travel restrictions. Obtaining an exemption that allows you to leave Australia during COVID-19 does not guarantee that you will be able to enter a foreign country. If you are planning to seek an exemption from the travel ban, be sure to make enquiries as to travel restrictions in the country you are planning to enter.

If you require legal advice or representation in an immigration matter or in any other legal matter, please contact Go To Court Lawyers.