How to go to Australia during COVID

How can I apply for an exemption to travel to Australia for my partner?

As many of you are aware, as a country, we’re locked down. No one is allowed in or out unless they have exemptions to travel. 

Responding to increasing pressure from Australian citizens being separated from their family and loved ones, the government has decided to a) allow entry for partners of Australian citizens and b) fast-track them aka give their visa applications priority processing. 

COVID-19 travel restrictions

This blog post is specific to the COVID-19 measures and travel restrictions in place.

In the Before Times (pre-COVID), you would be able to get a temporary visa to enter Australia so that you can lodge your partner visa application online. This is called an onshore application. However, because of COVID-19, the Australian government has shut our borders, meaning that you can’t apply for a temporary visa to enter Australia. All travel has basically grinded to a halt and this applies for Australians leaving as well. 

The current advice (as of time of writing) is: 

“You cannot come to Australia unless you are in an exempt category or you have been granted an individual exemption to the current travel restrictions.

The majority of travel exemption requests to come to Australia are finalised within 7 days, but some complex requests may take longer.

If you are not in an exempt category you can request an individual exemption to Australia’s travel.”

The exempt categories are:

  • an Australian citizen
  • a permanent resident of Australia
  • an immediate family member of an Australian citizen or permanent resident*
  • a New Zealand citizen usually resident in Australia and their immediate family members
  • a person who has been in New Zealand for 14 days or more immediately prior to arrival by air in Australia
  • a diplomat accredited to Australia, including their immediate family members (each member of the family unit must hold a valid subclass 995 visa)
  • a person transiting Australia for 72 hours or less
  • airline crew, maritime crew including marine pilots
  • a person recruited under the Government approved Seasonal Worker Program or Pacific Labour Scheme
  • a person who holds a Business Innovation and Investment (subclass 188) visa.

The exempt category that is most relevant to us is: Immediate family of Australian citizens or permanent residents or New Zealand citizens usually resident in Australia 

And as you can see, there is an asterisk next to this meaning that of course there are exceptions to the exceptions. Honestly, they wouldn’t be the Department/Australian government if they didn’t make things harder for partners of Australian citizens.

The asterisk is qualified with the below statement:

“If you hold a temporary visa or do not yet hold a valid visa for Australia, you must provide proof of your relationship”  [abridged]

Temporary visa to Australia

This means two things:

Firstly, if you have a temporary visa to enter Australia, say a tourist or visitor visa (as it was granted before we all went into lockdown and still valid) or a working holiday visa (another popular temporary entry visa for onshore partner visa applicants), you can’t use it unless you can prove that you have a relationship to an Australian citizen or permanent resident. 

Secondly, if you don’t have a temporary visa to enter Australia, and you would like to enter Australia, you’ll have to prove that you have a relationship with an Australian citizen or permanent resident. 

So basically, if you have a visa, you can’t come to Australia unless you have a relationship with an Australian citizen or permanent resident.

If you don’t have a visa, you can’t apply for the usual ones to come unless you have a relationship with an Australian citizen or permanent resident.

How do you provide proof of your relationship with an Australian citizen or permanent resident so that you can get an exemption to go to Australia?

You write a statement that shows: 

  • you have a mutual commitment with your spouse or de facto partner to the exclusion of all others
  • your relationship is genuine and continuing
  • you either live together or don’t live permanently apart
  • you are not related by family

And you should write about: finances, your household, social matters and commitment.

Now that sounds familiar. 

In essence, you’re going to have to write a mini personal statement that covers the 4 aspects of the relationship that you would normally write when you apply for a partner visa!

I say personal statement but if you look at the required documentation to apply for an exemption the Department talks about statutory declarations. I go through the difference between the two in this blog post. Both are valid but it seems the Department itself has a preference for statutory declarations. 

Defacto relationships

There seems to be an additional requirement for defacto relationships whereby you have to prove that you have been in a defacto relationship for 12 months prior to applying for the exemption.   

I’ve talked about the 12 month rule and here, marriage, marriage certificates and registering your relationship (as an exception to the 12 month rule) in separate blog posts. 

Prospective Marriage visas

Unfortunately the only category that misses out on this ‘exemption category’ is the Prospective Marriage visa (subclass 300) holders. 

Specifically, “An intention to marry is not sufficient evidence to demonstrate that you are an immediate family member of an Australian citizen or permanent resident” but the Department will consider prospective marriage visa holders on a case-by-case basis.

Summary

In summary, here’s what we know and how you could proceed:

Getting to Australia while COVID-19 travel restrictions are in place

You need to write a mini personal statement addressing the 4 aspects of the relationship. 

If you’re in a defacto relationship you have to prove the relationship existed 12 months before applying for the exemption. 

This mini personal statement is for the purposes of applying for an exemption to travel to Australia. This is not the partner visa application itself. Presumably what you write for this exemption will not be enough to apply for a partner visa. 

Once onshore, applying for a partner visa

Once you are onshore and want to apply for your partner visa, you can use the mini  personal statement or a statutory declaration that addresses the 4 aspects of the relationship as the base for your application. 

What you write about in the mini personal statement to gain entry to Australia is what you’ll need to expand on and provide further evidence. 

Tools, articles and other resources to help you:

Our blog posts below to help you with the 4 aspects of the relationship: 

And finally, The Australian Partner Visa Guide is the main book that talks in detail about how to write both personal statements or statutory declarations.  

Sources: 

Travel restrictions and exemptions 

Evidence of relationship 

Australian partner visa guides download 2019