On November 29, 2021, the Australian government announced that it would delay its plan to reopen the country to fully vaccinated visa holders in light of the identification of the omicron variant of the coronavirus. The delay is effective through at least December 15, 2021, and applies to students, skilled workers, and those carrying humanitarian, working holiday, and family visas. In its announcement, the government cited the need to gather more information to better understand the omicron variant, including its transmissibility, severity, and interaction with existing vaccines.

Reopening Plan Postponed

Before the November 29 announcement, Australia had planned to begin allowing fully vaccinated travelers in a host of visa categories to enter the country without obtaining a travel exemption starting on December 1. These visa categories included, among others:

  • Subclass 482 – Temporary Skills Shortage visas;
  • Subclass 400 – Temporary Work (Short Stay Specialist) visa;
  • Subclass 403 – Temporary Work (International Relations) visa;
  • Subclass 417 – Working Holiday visas; and
  • Subclass 500 – Student visas.

The Subclass 482 visa is a temporary work visa that allows employers to sponsor skilled workers to fill positions for which no qualified Australian worker is available. Loosening entry restrictions on 482 visa holders was seen as a means of filling critical labor gaps in Australia’s economy as the country seeks to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Under the new announcement, however, eligible travelers will have to wait until at least December 15 to enter the country without a travel exemption. As a result, Australia’s borders remain closed except for fully vaccinated Australian citizens, permanent residents, and immediate family, as well as fully vaccinated green lane travelers from New Zealand and Singapore, with limited exemptions.

New Travel Restrictions

 In addition to postponing the entry of fully vaccinated visa holders, the Australian government also announced the following measures to slow the spread of the omicron variant:

  • With the exception of Australian citizens, permanent residents, and their immediate family members, individuals who have been in eight African countries – South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, Malawi, and Mozambique – within the past 14 days will not be able to enter Australia.
  • Australian citizens, permanent residents, and their immediate family members arriving from these countries will need to undergo an immediate supervised quarantine for 14 days, subject to jurisdictional arrangements.
  • Individuals who are already in Australia and who have been in any of the eight countries within the past 14 days must immediately isolate themselves, get tested for COVID-19, and follow jurisdictional quarantine requirements.

All arrivals to Australia must also show a negative PCR test and complete traveler declaration forms detailing their vaccination status and confirming requirements to comply with state and territory public health requirements. Certain Australian states have also imposed additional quarantine requirements. For example, New South Wales and Victoria now require all Australians returning from overseas to isolate for 72 hours. Other states have mandated 14 days of managed quarantine for international arrivals.

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