Prime Minister Scott Morrison says the National Cabinet has agreed in principle on vaccine targets for the country’s four-phase plan to recover from the pandemic.
Australians living abroad will no longer be granted automatic permission to leave the country, as part of the Morrison government’s latest effort to limit international travel.
Instead, they will be forced to apply to the Australian Border Force for an exemption that can only be granted in “exceptional circumstances,” as defined by the federal government.
The change, implemented this week and set to take effect on August 11, appears to be intended to discourage Australians living in other countries from flying back for a visit rather than a permanent relocation.
Until August 11, Australians living in other countries do not need to apply for an exemption, but they must show their passport to a Border Force official at the airport when leaving the country.
It’s unclear how difficult it will be for Australians who normally live abroad to obtain an exemption after that date.
The government claims that the original automatic exemption was intended to allow overseas residents to leave once and never return and that those people have already had “substantial time” to leave.
“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.
“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.”
David Aaron, a semi-retired former Sydneysider splitting his time between the north of Portugal and the Philippines, said he understood that argument but insisted it was a problem of the government’s own making, thanks to its “mishandling” of the pandemic.
“I was wrongly under the impression that being a citizen of a country gave you certain rights,” he told 9News.com.au.
“And I just feel incredibly uncomfortable, that the country that I loved so much for so long, and have done so much for … that I can’t go back without pulling strings and jumping through hoops makes me feel terribly uncomfortable.”
Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews told Nine newspapers the change was made for consistency.
“This does not stop Australians ordinarily resident outside Australia from departing. However, these people will now need to apply for an exemption,” she said.
“The exemption’s regime is based on health advice and enables people to travel if essential, but is ultimately about keeping Australians safe from overseas COVID transmission.”
There are approximately 34,000 Australians registered as wanting to return from overseas, a situation exacerbated by a reduction in flight caps in July.
Many Australians living abroad who do not want to return home permanently have now gone years without seeing their family and friends in Australia due to flight cancellations in the early stages of the pandemic.
During the pandemic, many countries imposed strict entry restrictions, but Australia is the only one that has prohibited its citizens from leaving.