To say that Covid-19 has changed the face of travel is a huge understatement, but what is fact and what is conjecture? Issues like VFS closing, no ability to do biometrics, airport closures etc have all added to the challenge as well.
Currently Australia and Thailand have both implemented travel bans. This has massively disrupted peoples travel plans, and this will not change in the near future.
To currently enter Australia you must fit into one of the following categories:
- be an Australian Citizen or Permanent Resident, or NZ Citizen normally resident in Australia;
- an immediate family member, so spouse/de facto, child or guardian; or
- Apply based on compelling and compassionate grounds.
There is little flexibility if you do not meet the above criteria. Unfortunately for many, boyfriends and girlfriends do not meet the criteria, and will be refused.
To apply for the exemptions and more information go here – https://covid19.homeaffairs.gov.au/coming-australia
The good news is that if you do meet the criteria and want to travel back to Australia, the Australian Embassy in Bangkok is doing an amazing job of making this happen. Priority processing and working 7 days a week are some of the efforts they have gone to so that people can get on the special repatriation flights and have everything in order to meet the requirements. The Phuket Consulate has also been facilitating travel exemptions to leave Phuket to make joining these flights even possible.
Also, in many cases, if you meet the criteria to travel currently biometrics have been waived – a great example of the common sense that has been shown in the current circumstances. If only the same applied to other countries decision making at this time!
Unfortunately, at this stage if you fall outside of these exemptions there are no other options. The Minister for Trade and Tourism, Mr Simon Birmingham, announced on Friday 29th May that the plan would be to open up to longer term visa holders next, as well as long term student visa holders.
This will be positive for businesses that have staff outside Australia currently on temporary work visas, but will still not solve the issues for friends and couples.
So what about those separated from loved ones that would like to be re-united but do not meet the criteria?
I think it is safe to assume the current rules, policies and procedures for visitor visas (600) will get a significant overhaul.
Realistically we can expect there to be changes and restrictions well into 2021 (and even 2022) unless there is a major breakthrough in real time screening, treatments or vaccinations. Put simply you do not spend almost a quarter of a trillion dollars to avoid Covid related problems to then just open up the borders to anyone.
Also given that unemployment has now increased dramatically, and with forecasts of more hitting the dole queue when the JobKeeper subsidies runs out in September, then short term business, visitor and employment visas will no doubt become harder to obtain and with a larger focus on Labour Market Testing.
For visitor visas, this is going to become a challenge moving forward for many people.
Needing to show the supporting evidence of a temporary stay and incentives to return home are going to become more challenging.
Many people will now be unemployed (or have new jobs), and work opportunities for the short to medium term will be limited. Anyone in the hospitality and tourism sector, areas of manufacturing and agriculture amongst others are going to be hard pressed to show they have a long term job to come back to, given the state of the industries.
From an Australian government perspective there will be a concern about people coming to Australia to work illegally (from all nationalities) as it will be one of the fastest rebounding economies and provide some of the best opportunities.
So the need to really put together a well prepared application will become a must, and to have all of the necessary supporting documents.
Over the last few years it was getting harder and harder, my personal belief is that we are going to see a lot more refusals as the department tries to find the right balance.
So my advice – even if you have completed successful applications before – don’t be complacent, don’t assume the decision maker has any prior knowledge and make sure you cover anything and everything that is relevant.
A possible solution to speed things up? Depending on the stage of your relationship and your bank balance the Partner visa (and my lesser preferred option the Prospective Marriage Visa) may be the best option to open up access to the borders and allow you to see each other face to face instead of social media.
It is going to be a tough and bumpy ride ahead for the next few years… so buckle up and prepare for the road ahead.
We are always happy to do a Free Phone Consultation if you have any questions.
Simon Wetherell is an Australian lawyer with over 20 years experience. He specialises in Australian immigration and is an Australian Registered Migration Agent #1464995. More information is available at https://AustralianVisas-Thailand.com Facebook https://www.facebook.com/AustralianVisasThailand/ or you can call him on +66 8 4400 9487 or +61 8 6102 1005. Simon is also on the Board of Directors for AustCham Thailand https://AustChamThailand.com