23 Oct 2020

Critical Skills and Compassionate Travel | Migration in the COVID-19 Era

As mentioned in our Federal Budget insights, it seems travel to Australia over the next 12 months will continue to be restricted to people with a valid Travel Exemption. 

Given that the need to obtain a Travel Exemption will be with us for some time, here’s what employers and visa applicants/holders need to know.

When is it possible to apply for a Travel Exemption?

At this time, Travel Exemptions are available under limited circumstances – such as for Critical Work or Compassionate / Compelling reasons.

Travel Exemptions have added a separate stage of approval to the process for overseas travellers.

Individuals in the below categories can apply for an exemption:

A foreign national invited by the Government to assist in the COVID-19 response;

A foreign national whose entry would otherwise be in the national interest, supported by the Government;

A person providing critical or specialist medical services, including air ambulance, medical evacuations and delivering critical medical supplies;

A foreign national with critical skills or for work in a critical sector:

Critical Sectors include:

Financial technology

Large scale manufacturing

Film, media and television production

Emerging technology

Critical Skills include:

Medical technology

Critical infrastructure


Engineering and mining

Supply chain logistics

Aged care


Primary industry

Food production

Maritime industry

A person providing critical skills in religious or theology fields

 Above categories last updated: 10 November 2021.

A foreign national sponsored by an employer to work in Australia in an occupation on the Priority Migration Skilled Occupation List (PMSOL)

Occupations currently on the PMSOL include:

Chief Executive or Managing Director

Construction Project Manager

Accountant (General)

Management Accountant

Taxation Accountant

External Auditor

Internal Auditor



Other Spatial Scientist

Civil Engineer

Geotechnical Engineer

Structural Engineer

Transport Engineer

Electrical Engineer

Mechanical Engineer

Mining Engineer (excluding Petroleum)

Petroleum Engineer

Medical Laboratory Scientist


Orthotist or Prosthetist

General Practitioner

Resident Medical Officer


Medical Practitioners nec


Registered Nurse (Aged Care)

Registered Nurse (Critical Care and Emergency)

Registered Nurse (Medical)

Registered Nurse (Mental Health)

Registered Nurse (Perioperative)

Registered Nurses nec

Multimedia Specialist

Analyst Programmer

Developer Programmer

Software Engineer

Software and Applications Programmers nec

ICT Security Specialist

Social Worker

Maintenance Planner


Hospital Pharmacists

Retail Pharmacists

Industrial Pharmacists

PMSOL Occupations last updated: 10 November 2021.

Military personnel – conditions apply;

A person who resides on a vessel that seeks a safe port – conditions apply;

A student that has been selected to take part in an International Student Arrivals Plan with relevant Government support;

A student in their final three years of study of a medical university degree with a confirmed placement in an Australian hospital or medical practice – conditions apply;

student completing year 11 and 12, with relevant Government support – conditions apply;

student in their final two years of study in a dental, nursing or allied health profession university degree with a confirmed placement in am Australian hospital or medical practice – conditions apply;

A higher degree research student enrolled in an Australian education institution (including Masters by research and PhD students) with evidence of a current research grant from a Commonwealth agency or support from a relevant government agency – conditions apply.

Persons travelling for compassionate and compelling reasons.

Subclass 300 Prospective Marriage Visa holders where a.) the 300 Visa has been granted and b.) the 300 Visa was lodged at least 12 months before submitting the Travel Exemption.

It may also be possible to apply for a Travel Exemption for a relative (for example an aunt, uncle or grandparent) to escort an Australian Citizen or Permanent Resident minor to travel to Australia – conditions apply.

Travel Exemption Categories last updated: 10 November 2021. 

Implications for Employers and Skilled Applicants

The impact of international travel restrictions means it is not possible for skilled workers to travel to Australia from overseas unless sufficient evidence is provided to demonstrate ‘Critical Work’ requirements. 

Employers should seek to understand when an Exemption for Critical Work may be possible by considering the below:

Whether the business operates in a Critical Skills sector, requires a worker with Critical Skills; or requires a worker with an occupation on the PMSOL.

Consequences and detriment to the business if the worker cannot travel;

Reasons why the worker is required from overseas – eg, the highly specialised nature of the work;

Details of the project – eg, why travel is needed immediately;

Estimated value of the work to the business;

Impact of the worker’s travel to the economy – eg, the creation of local jobs.

Travel Exemptions are at the discretion of the Australian Border Force (ABF) Commissioner and refusals can cause delays. Applicants should provide substantial supporting evidence to explain their request.

The ABF Commissioner is starting to approve more Travel Exemptions for Critical Skills at an increased rate since July 2020, however this is not in direct proportion to the number of applications received. 

It is worth noting that: 

Applications for Critical Skills also increased since June.

Around 10,000 of the 15,000 received applications had no recorded decision at the end of August.

It appears the Department is now receiving just over 5,000 exemption requests a month. 

We will keep you updated once further statistics become available.

Implications for Family Applicants

The impact of the international travel restrictions for families is that people may still be separated from their loved ones at this time. 

While the number of approvals for Compassionate reasons increased in July, the number of refusals and received applications also increased.

As a guide, Travel Exemptions have previously been granted for Compassionate reasons for the below types of cases: 

Urgent or critical medical treatment in Australia;

Cases involving separation of minors from their family unit;

Cases demonstrating strong, compassionate circumstances with the potential for serious, ongoing and irreversible harm and continuing hardship to a person lawfully in Australia including: 

Attending funerals of close family members; 

Visiting a close family member who is seriously or critically ill, with little support in Australia;

Travel for the partner of a person who is in Australia (including Temporary Visa Holders) and in the final trimester of pregnancy or due to give birth.

Circumstances outside of the above may be considered. Travel Exemptions are assessed by the ABF Commissioner on a case-by-case basis and substantial evidence should be provided. 

Applying for a Travel Exemption

The ABF Commissioner has stated that it generally expects a person to have been granted a visa before applying for a Travel Exemption.

However, a person that meets the Critical Skills criteria can apply for an exemption beforehand. In our experience, visas have generally been granted to applicants that can obtain a Travel Exemption to enter Australia for Critical Work.

An exemption application should include sufficient supporting evidence and be lodged at least two weeks, but not more than two months before the planned travel.

Last updated: 19 August 2021.

Who does not need to apply for a Travel Exemption? 

Persons in the below categories are automatically exempt from Australia’s international travel restrictions and do not have to apply for a Travel Exemption to come to Australia: 

Australian Citizens;

Permanent Residents of Australia;

Immediate family members of an Australian Citizen or Permanent Resident;

New Zealand Citizens usually resident in Australia and their immediate family members;

A person who has been in New Zealand for 14 days or more immediately prior to arrival by air in Australia;

Diplomats accredited to Australia (holding a Subclass 995 visa);

Travellers transiting Australia for 72 hours or less;

Airline crew;

Maritime crew including marine pilots;

Persons recruited under the Government-approved Seasonal Worker Program or Pacific Labour Scheme;

Business Innovation and Investment (Subclass 188) Visa holders.

A person who holds a Temporary Activity (subclass 408) Visa in the ‘Post COVID-19 Economic Recovery Event’ stream and is supported by the Global Business and Talent Attraction Taskforce.

Travellers should carry evidence that they meet one of the above categories.

Immediate family members who do not hold a Partner or Child Visa must provide evidence of their relationship to the Department of Home Affairs to travel.

Prospective Marriage (Subclass 300) Visa holders will need to request an exemption.

Last updated on 10 November 2021.

Critical Work & Compassionate Travel in the COVID-19 Era

Currently, the available categories for an exemption are restricted to travel that boosts the economy, supports the provision of essential services and facilitates family reunion. 

In the future, it is possible that the categories for Travel Exemptions may broaden as Australia responds to new and emerging economic and social needs. 

In the meantime, employers and visa applicants/holders may wish to:

Seek to understand whether a Travel Exemption is possible for their circumstances and how they can provide sufficient evidence;

Plan for delays associated with obtaining Travel Exemptions (at international, state and regional borders as applicable), as well as limited flight availability and quarantine requirements.

What if a Travel Exemption cannot be obtained?

There is no limit to the number of times you can apply for a Travel Exemption, however more detailed evidence should be provided in subsequent applications – you may wish to seek advice before re-applying

Businesses with labour needs that do not meet Critical Work requirements may wish to consider options to engage visa holders that do not need a Travel Exemption – eg, visa holders already in Australia. 

Continuing the Discussion | Migration in the COVID-19 Era

Outbound Travel Exemptions also apply for leaving Australia – get in touch with Immigracious to understand your Travel Exemption options for leaving Australia.

We look forward to continuing the discussion over the next few weeks and we hope it is helpful.

If you have any queries about your visa circumstances or options, we encourage you to get in touch with our Registered Migration Agents at Immigracious.

Simply contact us at or +61 8 6263 4406.

Federal Budget Papers
The Department of Home Affairs
Immigracious’ Registered Migration Agents
Migration Institute of Australia

Sheila Woods

Posted by: Sheila Woods

A very experienced migration agent, Sheila has always been fascinated by this field. Her university degree thesis was on Australia’s post-war immigration history (and it earned her first-class honours).

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