Australia’s international travel ban has been extended by a further three months — news that’s painful enough for anyone hankering for an overseas holiday, but devastating for those who have more serious reasons to travel abroad.
The ban has been praised for helping limit the spread of COVID-19 in Australia. But it has also made Australians some of the only people in the world who need special permission to leave their country during the pandemic, with no clear end in sight.
Aside from a few exemptions for special workers, dual nationals and those who usually live overseas, there are only six reasons Australians can ask permission to leave: critical business work, urgent medical treatment not available in Australia, urgent and unavoidable personal business, compassionate or humanitarian grounds, and travel in the national interest.
As news.com.au has previously reported, only about a third of requests submitted to the Australian Border Force are successful — no matter how desperate or heartfelt the reasons for travel are.
news.com.au has been told of cases where people have had requests denied to see dying relatives — including those as close by as New Zealand — or to attend funerals of immediate family members, including parents.
Those cases would generally be thought to fall under the category of compassionate grounds, but still haven’t gotten over the line.
In other cases, baffled applicants have struggled to produce sufficient evidence — including power bills and school enrolment paperwork — to prove they really do mostly live in another country, which is another reason Australians can apply to travel.
Many have expressed confusion about why they can’t leave if they are willing to fork out thousands for hotel quarantine when they return.
In some instances people have had their applications denied by border officials, and then had the same application approved by someone else after resubmitting.
Dual Australian-British citizen Clare Hamilton-Bate told The Guardian she was initially rejected from travelling to London to see her terminally ill, 95-year-old stepfather because for month-long trip was too “short-term” to justify permission.
Ms Hamilton-Bate, who also wanted to spend time in London with her 90-year-old mother, who has dementia, said she submitted the request with six weeks’ notice.
“I actually did it with the flight a long way out because I thought it was courteous to give them lots of time to process it,” she told The Guardian. “I heard nothing, I kept ringing, I just heard there’s nothing we can do.”
She was successful on her third attempt and managed to make it to London.
Melbourne man Niall Williams told news.com.au he and his brother were knocked back multiple times trying to get permission to leave Australia to see their dying dad in the UK — and they got approval only after he passed away.
“My brother is in Sydney, I’m in Melbourne but the Australian Government wouldn’t allow us to leave,” he told said.
“We got refused the first time, and they essentially said that until we gave them the death certificate, it wasn’t enough.”
The brothers found out their dad was gravely ill in late May, and he died on June 2.
Mr Williams said his brother’s application was accepted four days later and Mr Williams’ on the fifth day, and they were able to make it to the UK for the funeral.
Another traveller, Mickey Chung, told 9 News his application to see his dying grandmother in Hong Kong was denied.
“I got an email basically just saying, ‘We don’t believe this is urgent, we don’t believe this is an exceptional circumstance’,” he said.
The request was eventually granted, but only after his grandmother had died. He managed to get to Hong Kong for the funeral, and completed the total of 28 days of quarantine required for the quick trip.
“I’m never going to see my grandma again, that’s a big thing for me, and that’s what’s really painful,” he said.