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Travel exemptions: navigating COVID-19 restrictions and what you need to know before you travel

Currently, nationwide travel restrictions remain in place, affecting thousands of people wishing to exit or enter Australia. A request for a ‘travel exemption’ is the only means by which some individuals and families can cross national borders and exit or re-enter the country.

The following groups do not require a travel exemption to enter Australia:

-Australian citizens, permanent residents and their immediate family members

-New Zealand citizens usually resident in Australia and their immediate family members

However, for non-citizens of Australia, including bridging and temporary visa holders on a wide range of visa classes, ongoing travel restrictions mean continued ‘lockout’ from international travel for a still undefined and uncertain period of time. The impact of these travel delays on individuals, their businesses, their families and on the economy are immeasurable.

Applying for a travel exemption in the form prescribed by the Australian Government can be time-consuming and valid reasons for lodging an application are limited.

The rates of successful travel exemptions in the various categories provide a snapshot of the current situation. Recent figures published by the Department of Home Affairs and Australian Border Force under the Freedom of Information process indicate that between 20 March and 31 July 2020, roughly 25% of outbound travel from Australia was approved, compared to 22% of inbound travel requests.

This makes staying up to date with changes and having detailed knowledge of travel exemption requirements all the more imperative.

Who can apply for a travel exemption?

Information issued by the Department of Home Affairs and updated on 2 September 2020 outlines that applicants for exemptions are required to fall within a number of categories.

A request for a travel exemption must be applied for by each individual wishing to travel who is not automatically exempt.

The Commissioner of the Australian Border Force may grant an individual exemption if the applicant:

  • is invited: a non-citizen travelling at the invitation of the Australian Government or a state or territory government authority for the purpose of assisting in the COVID-19 response;
  • works in critical services: providing critical or specialist medical services, including air ambulance, medical evacuations and delivering critical medical supplies;
  • has ‘Critical Skills’: a non-citizen with critical skills or working in a critical sector in Australia as defined by the Australian Government;
  • has an occupation on the ‘PMSOL’: a non-citizen sponsored by their employer to work in Australia in an occupation on the Priority Migration Skilled Occupation List (PMSOL);
  • has Government support: a non-citizen whose entry would otherwise be in the national interest, supported by the Australian Government or a state or territory government authority;
  • is military personnel: including those who form part of the Status of Forces Agreement, Commonwealth Armed Forces, Asia Pacific Forces and Status of Armed Forces Agreement; or
  • is travelling for compassionate and compelling reasons.

How can you apply for a travel exemption?

On 17 July 2020, the process for requesting an exemption from Australia’s travel restrictions moved to a new, online service delivery platform maintained by the Department of Home Affairs.

New features of the platform include improved tracking of the progress of requests, easier uploading of supporting documents and the linking of group and family member requests.

Applicants are advised to request an exemption at least two weeks, but not more than three months, before the planned travel.

All applicants must hold a visa and an exemption to Australia’s travel restrictions before travel. With the exception of the ‘Critical Skills’ category, the visa must be valid at the time of lodging the travel exemption request.

The travel exemption request must include:

  • traveller details: name, date of birth, visa type and number, passport number;
  • proposed residential address and phone number in Australia;
  • the reasons for coming: why the applicant should be granted an exemption;
  • a supporting statement: setting out how the applicant meets one of the grounds for an exemption;
  • accompanying evidence: appropriate evidence to support the claim for exemption, which may include:
    • proof of identity
    • evidence of holding a valid visa
    • travel itinerary
    • marriage, birth, death certificate/s
    • proof of relationship or residence (such as a shared tenancy agreement, joint bank account, etc.)
    • letter from a doctor or hospital, indicating why travel is necessary
    • letter from an employer indicating why travel is necessary
    • supporting letter from a business or government agency, advising why the applicant’s skills are critical
    • statutory declaration to support the applicant’s claims.

All documents need to be officially translated into English and requests may be finalised without further consideration if insufficient evidence is provided.

Need assistance? Madison Marcus can help.

Applying for a travel exemption can be complicated and stressful. Our dedicated team of specialists can help you navigate the complex processes involved in preparing and lodging a request application. We have had great success helping Australian visa holders (including a wide range of bridging, temporary business and student visa holders) both depart and re-enter the country for urgent personal and business reasons. Plus, we continue to assist communities particularly affected by the border closures.

If you need advice on travel exemptions, applying for a visa or recent changes to Australian Government requirements, Please feel free to schedule a consultation with us today by contacting 131 LAW [131 529] or email us at


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