Since March 2020, Australia has had some of the strictest border rules in the world. While the policy has been praised for helping suppress Covid-19, it has also controversially left couples separated without any reassurance as to when they would be able to see each other again. Scott Morrison’s recent announcement that Australia’s international borders will re-open within weeks, however, has given thousands of Australian couples who are desperate to reunite, a much needed glimmer of hope.
Current Australian border rules
For around nineteen months now, Aussies have been unable to depart Australia unless they could prove they had compassionate or compelling reasons, while foreign nationals have only been permitted entry into the country if there was an available travel exemption. These exemptions included being an immediate family member of an Australian citizen or permanent resident or travelling for compassionate or compelling reasons.
Immediate Family Member Exemption
To qualify for this exemption you must be a spouse or de facto partner of
- an Australian citizen
- an Australian permanent resident
- a New Zealand citizen who usually resides in Australia
In applying for the exemption you will be asked to provide evidence of your relationship. This may include items such as a marriage certificate / de facto or civil partnership registration, evidence of your mutual commitment, cohabitation and social recognition of your relationship (check out our blog for more details: Proving Your Relationship is Genuine and Continuing).
Providing clear, correct documentation is essential. If you provide plausible evidence supporting your legitimate case, this will save you and your partner the anguish of a refusal and the need to go through the process again.
Prospective Marriage Visa (subclass 300) Exemption
To be eligible for Prospective Marriage Visa exemption, you must
- hold a subclass 300 visa
- have applied for that visa at least 12 months before submitting your travel exemption.
Exemption requests are considered on a case-by-case basis and may take some time to be processed. Note that merely having submitted a Notice of Intention to Marry (NOIM) is not sufficient to meet this travel exemption.
Compassionate or Compelling Reasons to Travel
The Commissioner of the Australian Border Force may grant an exemption (incoming or outgoing) if you are seeking to travel for compassionate or compelling reasons. Situations meeting this threshold may include the, need to travel due to the death or critical illness of a close family member. Unfortunately, missing your partner is not considered compassionate or compelling.
Even if you have an incoming travel exemption in hand, of course, as usual, all non-citizens/residents must have a visa to enter Australia.
If you are a spouse / de facto partner, you may then be eligible to apply for the Partner visa onshore. Read more about the ins and outs of Partner visas in our blog Applying for a Partner Visa.
In a recent press conference, Prime Minister Scott Morrison stated “the time has come to give Australians their lives back” and indicated that borders would re-open from November 2021. This announcement hinges on the introduction of a seven-day home quarantine system for returning travellers who have received two doses of an approved Covid-19 vaccine (at the time of writing these are: Astra Zeneca, Pfizer, Moderna, Sinovac and Covishield).
Home quarantine will be limited, however, by the ‘double vax’ rate for each state. Only those states or territories which have at least 80% of their population double vaccinated, will be able to re-open on the Monday following that target being reached. All the proposed upcoming changes have been outlined in what the government is calling the National Roadmap.
Phase C of National Roadmap
According to the Government’s National Roadmap, once your state or territory hits 80% the following changes to international travel will be made:
- caps on returning vaccinated Australians will be abolished
- all restrictions on outbound travel for fully vaccinated Australians will be lifted
- the travel bubble for unrestricted travel to candidate countries will be increased e.g. Singapore, Pacific
- there will be a gradual reopening on inward and outward travel, with safe countries and proportionate quarantining
- there will be reduced requirements for fully vaccinated inbound travellers
At Phase C, therefore, Aussies will be able to depart Australia to meet their partners overseas. Once your state or territory reaches 80%, therefore, you can start making your plans!
Phase D of the National Roadmap
From 1st December 2021, Australia will enter Phase D of the National Roadmap, making it even easier for international couples to reunite.
Further measures in this phase include:
- fully open international borders
- only high-risk inbound travellers will have to quarantine
- uncapped inbound arrivals for all vaccinated people will be allowed
- non-vaccinated people will be allowed to enter in uncapped numbers, subject to pre-flight and on-arrival testing
These easings of restrictions mean that from December 1, you will no longer have to prove that you are in a long-term committed relationship to be eligible for travel, be travelling for compassionate and compelling reasons, nor need to apply for any travel exemptions.
The possibility of reuniting with your partner for Christmas is looking promising.
If you are an Aussie living in a state that has reached 80% double vaccination, then you may depart Australia. Keep an eye on the statistics and start getting your bag packed.
And from 1 December, international partners holding a valid visa will be able to travel to Australia. If your partner does not yet have that visa, then ensure you apply in plenty of time with the full suite of required evidence, as there is sure to be a rush.
If you need any help or would like any more information on how you can reunite with your partner for Christmas, contact our migration superhero, Sarah. Let us do the hard work for you so that all you have to do is bring out the mistletoe!