In the first six weeks of the Australian Government’s ban on overseas travel, the Australian Border Force has granted close to 3,000 exemptions to those restrictions, while denying over 1,000 others from leaving the country.
Of the 2,937 exemptions granted between March 25 and May 6 2020, almost three quarters were for travel on humanitarian grounds or for compassionate reasons – although two thirds of those declined permission to travel fell into the same category.
Speaking of travel authorisations more broadly, Border Force Commissioner Michael Outram told a Senate hearing on the coronavirus this month that “in some of the welfare or humanitarian cases, it's kind of heartbreaking in a way … (but) I have to balance the advice … to protect our country and community from COVID-19.”
It’s understood that many of the rejected applications provided insufficient evidence of a need to travel, but that those who are unsuccessful are normally invited to submit a new application with more substantive evidence.
Of the other travel exemptions granted, 514 were greenlighted for “urgent and unavoidable personal business”, yet over a quarter of all denied applications came from this category, with 277 people refused permission to travel.
Business travellers representing critical industries and those whose itinerary relates to the coronavirus made up less than 7% of all approvals, with just 189 people cleared to fly for these reasons in the first six weeks, and 92 declined in these groups.
Most applications for urgent overseas medical treatment were approved, with only 2 requests having been refused.
Who doesn't need a travel exemption?
In total, the number of travel exemptions granted over the period is akin to filling a Qantas Airbus A380 just once each week, or a Boeing 737 – as commonly flies on domestic routes like Sydney to Melbourne – barely once every three days.
International visitors don’t require an exemption to leave Australia and aren’t counted in these statistics.
Australian citizens who ordinarily live overseas don’t need permission to depart either, nor do airline or maritime crew members, those working in the freight industry, those undertaking essential work at offshore facilities, or people travelling on official government business.
All other travellers who have a compelling reason to leave Australia must apply for an exemption before they can depart.