Australian Government announces border closures to reduce the spread of coronavirus COVID-19
On 19 March 2020 Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced that Australia will close its borders to all non-citizens and non-residents on Friday 20 March 2020 from 9 pm Australian Eastern Daylight Time (AEDT) onwards.
This heightened incoming travel restriction means that all foreign nationals on temporary resident visas who intend to enter Australia through any of the airports and seaports will be prohibited from doing so at immigration clearance.
Australian citizens, permanent resident visa holders, New Zealand citizens and Pacific Island nationals transiting through Australia to return to their home countries are exempt from these travel restrictions.
The Australian government is discouraging all Australian citizens and permanent residents to travel overseas. At the same time, Australian citizens and permanent residents currently outside Australia are urged to return home as soon as practicable.
Upon return from overseas, Australian citizens and permanent residents are required to self-isolate for 14 days after arrival.
These measures have been put in place to reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus COVID-19.
What does this mean for businesses and visa holders?
These travel restrictions will affect businesses employing expatriate staff on temporary residence work visas. 457 or 482 visa holders who are currently outside or already en route to Australia will not be able to return back into the country until the travel ban is lifted. Any roles that require overseas business travel may need to be reconsidered or postponed until further notice.
In addition, businesses who are in the process of applying or have applied for temporary or permanent visas for foreign nationals currently overseas currently face uncertainty whether their nominees are able to enter and commence employment in Australia as scheduled.
While the Department of Home Affairs is still accepting and approving visa applications, only those who are currently outside Australia may not be able to enter Australia for the time being.
Inbound travel restriction exemptions
The Department of Immigration has further updated the online information, documentation required and forms to apply for exemptions to the travel restrictions for:
- NZ citizens usually resident in Australia,
- Immediate family members of an Australian citizen or permanent resident,
- Transiting travellers.
Additional exemptions may be applied for from the Commissioner of the Australian Border Force (ABF) for:
- Foreign nationals travelling at the invitation of the Australian Commonwealth Government for the purpose of assisting in the COVID-19 response or whose entry would be in the national interest,
- Critical medical services, including air ambulance and delivery of supplies, that regularly arrive into Australia from international ports,
- Persons with critical skills (for example, medical specialists, engineers, marine pilots and crews) by exception,
- Diplomats accredited to Australia and currently resident in Australia and their immediate family,
- Case-by-case exceptions may also be granted for humanitarian or compassionate reasons.
Exemptions must be granted prior to these travellers undertaking travel to Australia.
Outbound travel ban; Australian citizens and permanent residents
The Biosecurity (Human Biosecurity Emergency) (Human Coronavirus with Pandemic Potential) (Overseas Travel Ban Emergency Requirements) Determination 2020 came into effect at 12 noon Wednesday 25 March 2020.
The Australian Government has established protocols for the exercise of emergency powers under the Act to ensure that the emergency powers are only used where necessary to protect the health of Australians, based on expert advice and following appropriate consultation. These emergency powers may override any Commonwealth, state or territory law.
The Health Minister has determined that an Australian citizen or permanent resident must not travel outside of Australia (by air or sea or the operator of an outgoing aircraft or vessel) unless an exemption is granted to them (set out in sections 6 and 7 of the Determination). The Determination is in force for an initial period of 4 weeks. A further revision of this arrangement can occur towards the end of the period to assess whether it continues to be necessary.
A person who fails to comply with the Determination may commit a criminal offence and be imprisoned for a maximum of 5 years or be fined 300 penalty units ($63,000).
Section 6 provides an exemption to the travel restrictions requirements under section 5 of the Determination to the following persons:
- a person ordinarily resident in a country other than Australia,
- a person who is member of the crew of an aircraft or vessel (other than an outgoing aircraft vessel) or if a worker associated with the safety or maintenance of the aircraft or vessel,
- a person engaged in the day to day conduct of inbound and outbound freight,
- a person whose travel is associated with essential work at an offshore facility,
- a person who is travelling on official government business (including a member of the Australian Defence Force).
Exemptions; granted by an APS employee in the Australian Border Force
Section 7 provides that exceptional circumstances, an APS employee in the Australian Border Force may grant an exemption to:
- An Australian citizen,
- A permanent resident,
- An operator of an outgoing passenger aircraft or vessel.
The section provides that exceptional circumstances are demonstrated by the Australian Citizen, permanent resident or operator providing a compelling reason for needing to leave Australian territory. This section also provides that an exemption made under this section must be in writing.
Domestic border controls, travel and transport advice
In this unprecedented environment, some State Governments have already taken measures to restrict non-essential travel across their borders; including mandatory 14-day isolation periods and even border closures. Below are links to the relevant information by state.
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Employment Innovations is one of Australia’s leading providers of employment services designed to increase your business’ productivity and ensure compliance. Its services include workplace advice, legal services, payroll solutions, migration (visas/sponsorships), human resource management & HR software. Our partner firm EI Legal provides employment law advice and representation.
If you have any concerns about this heightened travel ban into Australia, please contact our Migration Services team on 1300 144 120.
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The coronavirus pandemic will continue to change over the coming weeks and we recommend following the advice of State & Federal government & health authorities. This article was originally published on 20 March 2020 and last updated on 26 March 2020.