13 Aug 2021

Travel Exemptions for Australians Normally Living Overseas

Health Minister, Greg Hunt has removed an automatic Travel Exemption that previously allowed Australians who normally live overseas to travel to their country of residence without needing permission to leave Australia.

Effective from 11 August 2021, expats currently in Australia will need to apply for a Travel Exemption for either Critical Work or Compassionate or Compelling reasons to leave Australia.

Read on to find out about the changes – plus an update on the status of international arrivals.

Why has the Automatic Travel Exemption Been Removed?

The Government argues the original automatic exemption was designed to allow overseas residents to leave once rather than to visit and return to Australia.

The Explanatory Statement attached to the Government’s Biosecurity Determination states, “The exemption was not intended to enable frequent travel between countries.”

“Further, as repatriation flights continue, it will be critical to manage the numbers of people leaving Australia with the intention of returning in the near future to ensure flight and quarantine availability is prioritised for individuals who have been stranded overseas for some time.

To put this in context, around 36,000 Australians have registered in the queue to return home.

According to the Explanatory Statement, “The amendment will reduce the pressure on Australia’s quarantine capacity, reduce the risks posed to the Australian population from COVID-19 and assist in returning vulnerable Australians back home.”

Breaches of the order could result in up to five years in jail and a $66,000 fine.

The media has questioned whether the change is legal. Under the Biosecurity Act, emergency determinations (similar to the ban on travel to and from India earlier this year) can be made by the Health Minister.

Flying to Australia | International Arrival Caps

Unfortunately, many Australians living overseas have now gone years without seeing their family in Australia. Some have not been able to travel after having their flights cancelled during the pandemic.

The change will make it even more difficult for Australians living overseas to come to Australia and return.

Since 14 July 2021, international arrival caps to Australia have been cut by half as per below, although repatriation flights have increased.

WA: 265 people per week

New South Wales: 1,505 per week (215 per day)

Victoria: 500 per week

Queensland: 650 per week (including surge capacity)

South Australia: 265 per week

Northern Territory: 0 per week – only Government arranged repatriation flights (and returning Olympians)

Tasmania: 0 per week – only accepting Pacific Labour Scheme and Seasonal Worker Program workers and transiting Antarctic expeditioners

Arrival caps were introduced in July 2020 at 4,000 persons, before increasing to 6,500 at the end of 2020 and then dropping to just over 4,000 in January 2021. It returned to more than 6,000 early this year, and was halved to around 3,185 people per week in July.

The Government has indicated international arrivals caps will only increase once Australia reaches Phase B in its National Plan to Transition Australia’s National COVID-19 Response – this is currently planned for 2022, based on achieving a 70% vaccination rate in Australia.

With limited flight availability and cap reductions, prices for flights to Australia have skyrocketed. According to Australian Aviation, flights between London and Sydney in early to mid July were selling for more than $43,000.

Getting a Travel Exemption

It is possible for Australians that usually live overseas to apply to leave Australia, however the Government has reportedly stated that Travel Exemptions will be granted for ‘exceptional circumstances’.

The process of applying for a Travel Exemption requires evidence to support a person’s reasons for travel – find out more here.

Immigracious | Perth Migration Agents

For assistance with your Travel Exemption or Visa options, we encourage you to to contact Immigracious’ Migration Agents to arrange a consultation so we can assess your eligibility and provide advice on how you should prepare your evidence.


Immigracious’ Migration Agents
Migration Institute of Australia
Australian Financial Review
9 News
The Conversation
Australian Aviation

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).

Filed in: Uncategorized


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