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Temporary visa holder from India returns to Australia after receiving exemption to coronavirus travel ban

Dr Anant Sandhu Source: Supplied

Temporary skilled visa holder, Anant Sandhu has finally returned to his life in South Australia after he was granted exemption from Australia’s coronavirus-induced travel restrictions on April 29­­­.

A frontline doctor, Anant Sandhu had gone to his hometown in the northern Indian state of Punjab in March to spend time with his family.

He had hoped to return to his home in South Australia late in April, but like hundreds of skilled migrants who happened to be on overseas trips when the borders closed, Dr Sandhu too was blocked from returning to his life in Australia.


  • Temporary skilled visa holder returns to Australia after getting travel exemption
  • Temporary visa holders intending to return to Australia can apply for exemptions 
  • Australian borders are currently closed to non-Australian citizens, residents

“My employer had been constantly in touch with me ever since the COVID-19 started disrupting lives in Australia. They asked me if I could return even before the borders closed in March, but I somehow could not arrange the tickets at the time,” he says.

Anant Sandhu after he finished his mandatory two-week quarantine in Canberra.

The 26-year-old who is employed with a hospital since September 2019 says he became aware of the provision of travel exemptions only in April.

“I immediately reached out to my employer and then sent over a letter of support indicating that they were short-staffed for medical practitioners and would like me to return as soon as possible.

“I followed the instructions provided on the Home Affairs’ website and applied for an exemption on April 27. And I received the grant two days later,” he adds.

Dr Anant
Snapshot of the exemption approval addressed to Mr Anant Sandhu.

Dr Sandhu touched down in Canberra on May 15 where he spent two weeks in hotel quarantine before travelling to SA on May 30. He is now required to spend another two weeks in self-isolation as per the state health guidelines.

“I am lucky that for me the process was quite quick and straight forward, maybe because I work in the critical sector. I attached my employer’s support letter along with my medical registration and some other relevant documents with my application,” he adds.

While Dr Sandhu has made it home, there are thousands of work visa holders, international students and bridging visa holders who have called Australia home for years but have been unable to secure individual exemptions, a majority of whom have applied on compassionate grounds.

Divya Jot Kaur, another medical professional stranded in India who was one step away from getting her professional registration, has failed to secure a travel exemption on compassionate grounds, even after multiple attempts.

“I am on a spouse dependent visa while my husband is on 485 visa which is due to expire in October. But now everything is at stake as I cannot secure a job with a hospital until I get my registration and that’s not going to happen while I am offshore,” says Ms Kaur.

Divya Jot Kaur

Last month, the Australian Border Force (ABF) told a Senate Committee on COVID-19 that it has granted 1,905 travel exemptions and refused 253 applications between February 2 and May 6 this year.

As per the data submitted to the committee, the highest number of exemptions were granted on compassionate grounds, followed by other categories such as people on protection visas and those with critical skills particularly in fields related to medicine, besides others.

People in Australia must stay at least 1.5 metres away from others. Find out what restrictions are in place for your state or territory.

Testing for coronavirus is now widely available across Australia. If you are experiencing cold or flu symptoms, arrange a test by calling your doctor or contact the Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080.
The federal government's coronavirus tracing app COVIDSafe is available for download from your phone's app store.

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