Australia

Australia is slashing international arrivals by half. How will that affect stranded citizens and permanent residents?

There are still hundreds of Australian citizens and permanent residents overseas desperate to return home.

The federal government's decision to slow the pace of international arrivals to Australia is set to make it more difficult for returning Australians and residents to come home.

The number of flights has already been drastically slashed due to a travel ban in place since March, but there are still hundreds trying to make the journey. 

They're now likely to face more delays and bigger costs to get home. 

How big is the reduction?

The number of international arrivals allowed will be cut by half to ease the pressure of coronavirus quarantine on states and territories.

The reduction means 4,000 fewer people will be coming to Australia each week.

Many of those still stranded abroad have already raised concerns the decision, which takes effect from Monday, could further delay their attempts to return to Australia.

“It will be more difficult because there will be a reduction in the available capacity for people coming back to Australia,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said following national cabinet on Friday.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison at a press conference at Parliament House in Canberra.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison at a press conference at Parliament House in Canberra.
AAP

Why is the government doing this?

States and territories had called for the reduction to ease pressure on hotel quarantine following the coronavirus outbreak in Melbourne.

The Victorian government has already suspended international arrivals while the state manages its surge in cases, meaning more flights had to be diverted to other airports around the country. 

Meanwhile, NSW will cap arrivals at 450 people per day and consider reducing this further in coming weeks.

Western Australia is set to limit arrivals to 525 a week and Brisbane will implement an overall cap of 500 international arrivals per week.

Mr Morrison said other states will also impose similar caps on incoming travellers and begin charging people for their two-week of mandatory hotel quarantine.

“The decision that we took to reduce the number of returned travellers to Australia was to ensure we could put our focus on the resources needed to do the testing and tracing,” Mr Morrison said.

What should people trying to return home do?

The federal government has urged Australians across the world to return home since March as concerns over the coronavirus pandemic accelerated.

More than 357,000 Australians citizens and permanent residents have returned since then – but thousands remain overseas – some of their own choosing.

The Migration Institute of Australia president John Hourigan told SBS News that many people wanting to come back have been thwarted by coronavirus lockdowns, travel restrictions and flight cancellations.

“If they need to return or want to return it’s just a matter of keep on trying and hopefully things will ease up,” he told SBS News.

“It’s not a matter of people delaying trips – it’s just a matter of trying to get the flights.”

His advice is for travellers to continue to pursue commercial options to return to Australia, but Mr Hourigan said reducing arrivals numbers would result in further delays.

“People are going to struggle to get here and if they’re destitute overseas – I wonder how they are going to support themselves? There is a human element here and they have to consider that.”

How much will it cost?

Taxpayers had initially been paying for people’s mandatory 14-day hotel quarantine stays since the protocols were introduced.

But national cabinet has now agreed all states and territories will charge returning travellers for the cost of their 14-day quarantine.

Queensland had already imposed fees from 1 July - $2,800 for a single adult, $3,710 for two adults and $4,620 for two adults and two children.

But Mr Morrison said the states would now seek to implement some “national uniformity” on the price of quarantine.

He also said hardship considerations for those who can’t afford the hotel bill would be a “matter for states and territories”.

What about the international student pilots?

Plans for international students to return to Australia have also been plunged into uncertainty as a result of the surge in cases in Victoria.

A joint pilot project by University of Canberra and the Australian National University to bring back 350 students in late July has now been delayed indefinitely.

The federal government has said interstate travel restrictions would need to be removed before pilot programs could proceed - but it’s understood the government's won't consider Victorian border closures a barrier to this. 

However, the Victorian outbreak is believed to have halted planning by states on their individual proposals for international students.

What does this mean for temporary visa holders? 

Temporary visa holders have been unable to enter the country since foreign nationals were barred by the nation's international travel ban implemented on 20 March.

Those abroad must apply for an exemption based on a compelling or compassionate reason, even if they had been living in Australia before the travel ban came into effect.

According to data provided to the COVID-19 committee, nearly one million temporary visa holders - excluding those with tourist visas - remain outside the country as at 7 June.  

Australia’s decision to reduce international arrival numbers is anticipated to create further delays to the resolution of this backlog.

The move will be subject to a review by the national cabinet before the end of July.

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