Australia Announces Unprecedented Travel Ban for Citizens and Permanent Residents in the wake of Covid-19

The Australian government has announced on March 25, 2020 that a travel ban has been introduced   which will prevent Australian citizens and permanent residents from departing Australia, except in exceptional circumstances. This is in addition to the recently announced entry bans applicable to any non-Australian citizens or permanent residents who have not been granted prior permission to enter Australia on exceptional circumstance grounds.

Whilst the Australian government does not appear to have such powers in its immigration legislation, these provisions have been enacted through the Biosecurity (Human Biosecurity Emergency) (Human Coronavirus with Pandemic Potential) (Overseas Travel Ban Emergency Requirements) Determination 2020 and came into effect today 25th March 2020 at 12:00 pm AEDT.

The government has determined that an Australian citizen or permanent resident may not travel outside Australia by air or sea, unless an exemption is granted to them.  The operator of an outgoing aircraft or vessel may also not leave Australia with an Australian citizen or permanent resident on board unless an exemption has been granted to the individual.  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 be found to have committed a criminal offence and be imprisoned for a maximum 5 years, or, be fined 300 penalty units (AU$63,000).

Exemptions

Announced exemptions include:

  • 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 is 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 need to be granted in writing by an employee in the Australian Border Force.  An Australian citizen or permanent resident will need to set out exceptional circumstances (by providing a compelling reason) for needing to leave Australian territory.

This legislation is unprecedented and may have far reaching consequences for those who have family commitments abroad, and are seeking to depart Australia to deal with  family emergencies or possibly just because they have now lost their employment in Australia and may have opportunities or commitments elsewhere.