Australia plans to ditch its incoming passenger card by the end of this year, replacing it with a smartphone-based app that could also contain proof of vaccination against COVID-19.
It's the latest embrace of digital travel technology for the coronavirus era, and comes as airlines begin rolling out 'Travel Pass' apps to certify that passengers have either passed a pre-flight COVID test or been vaccinated.
That list now includes Singapore Airlines, Emirates, Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways, with British Airways tipped to join them by March; industry body IATA, which developed the Travel Pass and hopes to see it become a global standard for airlines, COVID test centres and government health authorities, claims it is "the key to unlocking travel without quarantine measures."
Federal Education Minister Alan Tudge says that linking verified COVID-19 vaccine certificates to the new digital arrivals cards could help speed the return of international students to Australian universities.
In his previous role as Acting Minister for Immigration, Tudge said the Digital Passenger Declaration app could also include visa information, turning it into a 'super-app' to further streamline the processing of travellers arriving from overseas and "put us in a prime position to successfully reopen our borders in a COVID-safe way."
Australia's Department of Immigration and Border Protection – precursor to today's Department of Home Affairs – scrapped the green departure cards for outbound travellers in mid-2017, and at the time indicated the days of the orange arrivals cards were also numbered.
“If a vaccine works and stops the spread, and it can be rolled out effectively in source countries and we can have surety over vaccination certificates, then there is the potential to be able to bring in more international students without them having to quarantine,” Tudge said.
"In part, that would be facilitated by the fact that we’re digitising the incoming passenger card. Our aspiration is that we would then be able to electronically staple an authenticated, biometrically connected vaccination certification to that card."