On March 20, Australia imposed a travel ban in place, preventing everyone but Australian citizens and permanent residents from entering the country.
For skilled visa holder (Subclass 491), Paras Mahendru and his family who happened to be in India when the borders closed, this meant they were among thousands of temporary visa holders who were blocked from returning to their lives in Australia despite spending years in the country.
- ABF clarifies that there has been no change in travel exemption policy for provisional visa holders
- Provisional partner visa holders (subclasses 309 and 820) are exempt from the travel restrictions
- ABF received a total of 155,402 requests from non-citizens seeking to enter Australia up until Oct 31
The 34-year-old engineering manager told SBS Punjabi that his desperation to return to his work and home in Illawarra in regional New South Wales has grown to such an extent, that over the past eight months he has spent hours every single day, scouring government and news websites for updates that may change his fate.
On 12 November, during his daily recce, he stumbled upon a page on the Department of Home Affairs website that had been just updated which mentioned provisional visa holders can enter Australia.
“This sparked my curiosity as I am on 491 visa which is a provisional visa and this information meant that I could enter Australia.
“I immediately took snapshots and shared it in a WhatsApp group with temporary visa holders stuck in India, I realised that a lot of other people had also noticed and flagged it in the group and on Facebook, but no one had answers,” said Mr Mahendru who then reached out to SBS Punjabi.
No change in exemption policy: ABF
In turn, SBS Punjabi took his query to the Australian Border Force, which clarified stating that “there has been no change to the travel exemption policy for provisional visa holders.”
Provisional partner visa holders (subclasses 309 and 820) are exempt from the travel restrictions. Other provisional visa holders can apply for a travel exemption if they meet one of the exemption criteria – ABF
Following our query, the Department later added the word provisional ‘family’ visa holders on its website to dispel the confusion on 13 November.
The ABF spokesperson further stated that only the following people are automatically exempt from the travel restrictions and can enter Australia (without obtaining an individual exemption):
- an Australian citizen
- a permanent resident of Australia
- an immediate family member of an Australian citizen or permanent resident
- a New Zealand citizen 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
- a diplomat accredited to Australia, including their immediate family members (each member of the family unit must hold a valid subclass 995 visa)a traveller transiting Australia for 72 hours or less
- a person transiting Australia for 72 hours or less
- airline crew, maritime crew including marine pilots
- recruited under the Government approved Seasonal Worker Program or Pacific Labour Scheme
- holder of a Business Innovation and Investment (subclass 188) visa
‘It is immensely hard to get travel exemptions’
Non-citizens and non-permanent residents can travel to Australia if they are in an exempt category, or by requesting an exemption at the discretion of the Commissioner of the Australian Border Force, but these are hard to come by.
As per the latest data revealed by the ABF, it received a total of 155,402 travel exemption requests from non-citizens seeking to enter Australia up until October 31. While 25,394 exemptions were approved, at least 26,900 were turned down during the same period.
Melbourne-based migration agent Ranbir Singh explained that provisional visas are temporary visas that may lead to the grant of a permanent visa if the holder meets certain conditions.
“This must not be confused with permanent residency visas, the word provisional stands for the fact that there is a provision for the visa holders to become permanent after a stipulated period, provided the visa holder fulfils the conditions listed under the specific subclass,” he said.
Mr Singh reiterated that only Provisional partner visa holders (subclasses 309 and 820) are exempt from the current travel restrictions, as has been the case since the borders were clamped.
“Since it is immensely hard to get exemptions for provisional visa holders, I can understand why they felt jubilant at seeing the word provisional on the website, but the hard fact is that only Provisional partner visa holders are exempt from travel restrictions at this point in time,” he added.
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