Omicron response shines spotlight on flawed travel restrictions, HRLC says

Omicron response shines spotlight on flawed travel restrictions, HRLC says

02 December 2021 By Naomi Neilson
Omicron response travel restrictions

In response to the news that the Omicron variant of the COVID-19 virus had entered Australia, and the related postponement of border changes, human rights lawyers have urged the federal government to overhaul its framework for travel restrictions.

Earlier this week, the Morrison government announced that its previously planned easing of travel restrictions would be delayed by two weeks following the news that the Omicron variant is now present in NSW. The Human Rights Law Centre (HRLC) said this once again shows the flaws in the government’s exemptions process.

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The delay will leave people on temporary visas and humanitarian visas left in limbo once more, HRLC explained. Almost 10,000 people granted permanent humanitarian visas remain stranded overseas and, unlike permanent visa holders, they are prevented from travelling to Australia without an exemption.

Commenting on the announcement, HRLC senior lawyer Scott Cosgriff said that the developments like the new variant only reinforces the need to “replace flawed and hastily constructed system for travel restrictions with one that is fair and transparent”.

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“The reality is that people who are granted exemptions from the blanket travel ban continue to be allowed to enter Australia, but the exemptions system ignores people with compelling and urgent needs,” Mr Cosgriff said.

HRLC added that the process for granting exemptions from the travel ban lacks parliamentary oversight, “has no review rights, is opaque and lacks adequate grounds for compassionate exemptions”. The exemption system also fails to recognise that many people on temporary visas are long-term residents of Australia.

“Lost in the government’s announcement is the reality that many of the people affected are Australian residents who remain cut off from their homes and families in Australia. Our friends, neighbours and colleagues on temporary visas should not be treated differently to others who are finally making their way home,” Mr Cosgriff said.

In November, HRLC released a paper highlighting the serious problems in the federal government’s system of travel restrictions for visa holders. It set out five elements of a fair and inclusive plan for easing travel restrictions, including establishing automatic exemptions for people living in Australia on temporary visas and for refugees granted humanitarian visas.

“The Morrison government must also ensure that it is not turning its back on its commitments to refugees and that any restrictions on travel are fair and transparent,” Mr Cosgriff said.

Omicron response shines spotlight on flawed travel restrictions, HRLC says
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