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COVID-19 restrictions: Temporary visa holders who want to travel to Australia ‘urgently’ may apply for exemptions

Who is exempt from Australia's international travel ban? Source: SBS

As per the current travel restrictions, only Australian citizens, permanent residents and their immediate family members can travel to Australia. However, there are some exceptions.

The Department of Home Affairs has a provision to allow travel exemptions where it is essential, in the national interest or on humanitarian or compassionate grounds.

Travellers who believe they have a “compassionate or compelling” reason to travel to Australia “urgently” will need to have an exemption from the Australian Border Force Commissioner, who will then determine if an applicant is eligible to travel.


  • Temporary visa holders can apply for travel exemptions on humanitarian or compassionate grounds
  • ABF Commissioner will determine where exemptions from travel ban may apply
  • Applicants will have to fill an online inquiry form to apply for an exemption

Here are some scenarios where exemptions from the travel ban may apply:

  • foreign nationals travelling at the invitation of the Australian Commonwealth Government for the purpose of assisting in the COVID-19 response or whose entry would be in the national interest
  • critical medical services, including air ambulance and delivery of supplies, that regularly arrive into Australia from international ports
  • people with critical skills (for example, medical specialists, engineers, marine pilots and crews) by exception
  • diplomats accredited to Australia and currently resident in Australia and their immediate family
  • ​case-by-case exceptions for humanitarian or compassionate reasons

Temporary visa holders can apply for travel exemptions on humanitarian or compassionate grounds.

Who is eligible to apply for exemption on humanitarian or compassionate grounds?

Explaining the scenarios where a case may be considered for humanitarian or compassionate reasons, migration agent Ranbir Singh says the exemption can apply to certain temporary visa holders and their families who are currently offshore.

“This may apply in two most foreseeable scenarios: One, you are a temporary visa holder outside Australia (subclasses 491, 494, 457, 489) or an active business visa holder (subclass 188) and your immediate family as in your spouse or kids are here in Australia, while you are not.

“This exception may also apply the other way around. For example, you’re a 491 visa holder working in Australia, and your spouse and children have left Australia before the travel ban and have been absent for a short period of time - may also apply for this exemption,” explains Mr Singh.

He, however, cautions that applicants must bear in mind that these applications will be assessed on a case-by-case basis and there is no guarantee of an exemption.

“The Department is being very strict in providing grants to applications on humanitarian or compassionate grounds. Applicants will have to submit proper evidence to the DHA to prove that they meet an exemption and have a very compelling reason to travel,” adds Mr Singh.

How to request for an exemption?

It is important that exemptions are granted prior to these travellers boarding a flight to Australia.

Travellers who have a compassionate or compelling reason to travel to Australia need to fill this dedicated online enquiry form to apply for an exemption.      

The form asks applicants to choose a ‘reason for exemption’ and other relevant personal details including your passport, visa status, travel arrangements and contact details. It also allows applicants to upload supporting evidence.

There is no specific processing time mentioned for applications under this category. The website, however, states that the Department will not respond, "if it determines that there were not sufficiently compelling or compassionate reasons to prioritise your application."


Who is currently allowed to travel to Australia?

Currently, all Australian citizens, permanent residents or their immediate family members or guardians can enter the country.

While there are no restrictions on citizens and residents, immediate family members or guardians intending to travel will have to request an exemption.

Canberra-based migration lawyer Ben Watt says the basis to apply for special permission under this category is not the visa status of the applicant, but it’s their relationship with an Australian citizen or permanent resident that may make them eligible.

“Anyone can apply for an exemption, but they need to be the immediate family member or guardian of an Australian citizen or a resident,” says Mr Watt.

“For example, student visa holders or visitor visa holders married to Australian citizens or residents who are currently offshore can apply for the exemption within the family status,” he adds.

Partner (subclasses 100, 309, 801, 820) and Child (subclasses 101, 102, 445) visa holders can also come to Australia, without the need to request for an exemption.

All those returning to Australia will be required to quarantine at a government-designated accommodation for 14 days after the day of their arrival. This accommodation will be funded and arranged by the government and will be located in your arrival city, not your final destination.

Please visit the Department of Home Affairs website for more details.

Disclaimer: This content is for general information purposes only, and should not be used as a substitute for consultation with professional advisors.

Coronavirus symptoms can range from mild illness to pneumonia, according to the Federal Government's website. Symptoms can include a fever, coughing, sore throat, fatigue and shortness of breath.

If you develop symptoms within 14 days of returning from overseas, you should call to seek medical attention.

If you don’t have symptoms but you have been in contact with a confirmed COVID-19 case, you should also call to seek medical attention.

If you believe you may need to get tested, call your doctor, don’t visit. Or contact the national Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080.

If you are struggling to breathe or experiencing a medical emergency, call 000.

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