Australia Will Block Expats From Leaving as It Toughens Border Curbs

Expats to Be Locked In on Return as Australia Ups Border Curbs

Australia is making some of the world’s toughest pandemic border curbs even tougher, by barring non-resident citizens who enter the country from leaving again to reduce pressure on a quarantine system that’s being tested by the delta variant.

One of the few nations that banned citizens from leaving when the pandemic hit, Australia’s government amended the border policy Thursday to close a loophole allowing expatriates to visit home and leave the country again without applying for an exemption from the ban. Now, those hoping to return to their residences abroad will have to demonstrate to the Australian Border Force Commissioner a “compelling reason for needing to leave Australian territory.”

The amendment takes effect Aug. 11 and could end up forcing some expats planning long-awaited visits home to rethink their plans. It could also leave immediate families separated if not all members traveled to Australia at the same time.

“We’ve seen too many instances where people have left the country only for in relatively short order to put their names on the request list to come back,” Finance Minister Simon Birmingham told reporters in Canberra. “That just puts additional pressure and additional difficulties in terms of managing the finite number of places that can safely be administered for returning Australians.”

Australians residing in the country are already prohibited from going overseas without the government exemptions, which can be granted for reasons including compassionate grounds or traveling to receive urgent medical treatment not available in Australia.

‘Fortress Australia’

The country’s international borders have been mostly closed since early last year in a bid to stem Covid’s spread, with entry largely restricted to citizens, residents and their immediate families, who then face a mandatory 14-day quarantine in a hotel. The measures, some of the strictest in the world, have left thousands of Australians effectively stranded abroad and earned the country the nickname “Fortress Australia.”

The amendment comes after the government in May temporarily banned even its citizens from entering Australia if they had been in India, where the delta variant first emerged. Health minister Greg Hunt said breaches could lead to a fine of A$66,600 ($51,000), five years in jail, or both.

The Australian Broadcasting Corp. reported at the time that there were some 9,000 Australians living in India who wanted to come home as the virus re-surged there.

Australia Will Block Expats From Leaving as It Toughens Border Curbs

The stringent measures worked at keeping Covid at bay, with Australia effectively snuffing out the virus over the southern hemisphere summer. But they are being tested by the highly-contagious delta strain, which is fueling outbreaks from Sydney to Brisbane, with some two-thirds of the country’s population now back in lockdown.

Australia last month cut an international arrival quota by 50% to take the pressure off its mandatory quarantine system -- which requires all arrivals to spend two weeks under guard in an assigned hotel -- after the variant slipped through. An air-travel bubble with New Zealand that opened in April has since been paused amid the surge in cases.

“It’s important that people who are seeking to leave are either doing so because they’re returning to another place of residence for a long period of time, or that they have a very strong, credible reason for doing so,” Birmingham said.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.