Covid: Strict travel rules mean people in Australia need permission to leave country

Permission to leave Australia could be denied. Credit: AP

The Australian government’s strict new travel rules requiring expats to seek permission to leave the country have come into effect from today.

Under the stringent regulations, those wanting to leave Australia will have to prove to the border force commissioner they have a "compelling reason" to do so.

As part of efforts to contain Covid infections, the country has banned its citizens from leaving since March last year.

This ban had not previously applied to Australians who usually reside in other countries, but from August 11 they too are now required to apply for an exemption for outbound travel.

Australian citizens have been banned from leaving since March last year. Credit: AP

A foreign driver's licence or residential agreement are among the options that can be submitted as evidence needed to prove they have an "established and settled" home overseas.

The Department of Foreign Affairs has defined someone as “ordinarily resident in another country” if they spent more time outside Australia than inside for the previous 12 to 24 months.

In a statement to ITV News, a spokesperson for the Australian High Commission said the measures will help prevent frequent travel between Australia and other nations. 

"Australians who usually live overseas can still leave Australia by applying for an exemption and demonstrating their links to the country where they usually live," it read.

"This brings travel exemption requirements in line with those for other Australians. This amendment is designed to better assist vulnerable Australians overseas to return home, and prevent frequent travel between Australia and other countries, keeping the system fair for all."

Australians living overseas can apply for an exemption to the outbound travel restrictions before travelling to Australia.

A normally busy shopping area in Sydney is nearly empty of people during its two-week lockdown in July to stem Covid cases. Credit: AP

For citizens living permanently in Australia, a narrower set of criteria applies, including overseas travel being in the national interest or necessary for work or a business. 

Critics have reacted angrily to the controversial changes, which they argue will punish families. 

Experts also say the policy may be unconstitutional, with the law firm Marque Lawyers reportedly confirming it is considering a potential legal challenge in relation to the rules. 

The changes are part of emergency biosecurity laws brought in to help stem the transmission of Covid-19.

Last month, Australia halved the number of international arrivals it accepted after coronavirus outbreaks forced swathes of the population into lockdown.

The country continues to struggle to contain an outbreak of the highly transmissible Delta variant, with the greater Sydney region placed under tight curbs for more than six weeks.

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