Tennis, Visas and No-Vax

January 28, 2022
Myer Lipschitz

“Australia really knows how to return a Serb” was a joke (meme – I never know the difference) circulating widely on social media following the cancellation of Novak Djokovic’s visa and his subsequent deportation from Australia. I’m sure that he will have learned a few hard lessons about Australia’s visa system and the lengths that Australia will go to enforce the rules and regulations that comprise Australian immigration law. But there are lessons that you can learn from his experience that might be relevant to your circumstances.

1. Australia is a federation of states with federal law and state law but visas are issued by the Australian (federal) government. In order to obtain a valid visa you need to satisfy the Department of Home Affairs which is a Federal Department, not a State Department. While we think we are governed by one central government, the pandemic has shown that state governments have a lot of power when it comes to border control of state borders. One of the major points of confusion in the Djokovic saga was that the state government approved the medical exemption, but the federal government didn’t accept that exemption. Essentially you need both governments to approve your entry to Australia.

In order to travel to Australia you need to have a valid visa and

1.1 need to check if you are exempt from Australia’s travel restrictions

1.2 check if you can access reduced quarantine requirements and this will vary from state to state so you need to check the relevant states requirements in this regard (and whether or not a specific state requires you to apply for a permit before entering)

1.3 obtain your foreign vaccination certificate

1.4 complete an Australian travel declaration at least 72 hours before your flight

1.5 undertake a pre-departure Covid 19 test

1.6 be prepared to present the necessary evidence to airlines and customs.

2. Obtaining a medical exemption to present a Covid vaccination certificate at a sporting event is for the purposes of attending that particular event. It has no bearing on federal and state rules and regulations.

3. If an agent or lawyer has completed a form that forms part of a visa application make sure that you have read and understood all of the answers on the form. You are bound by the information used in your visa application in any document provided even though you may not have been the architect and you cannot use ignorance as an excuse. Djokovic acknowledged that his Australian travel declaration form contained incorrect information and whilst this wasn’t pertinent to the decision to cancel his visa it could have been.

4. No one is exempt from meeting requirements and if the government in Australia would go to the lengths of cancelling the visa of the men’s number one tennis player they would have no qualms about doing the same to you.

5. It makes travel to Australia so much easier if you get an approved Covid vaccination if you are medically able to do so.

6. Djokovic won his initial court case because the immigration rules hadn’t been applied in accordance with judicial fairness however, you have to have very deep pockets and a strong stomach to be able to fight the government if you feel that your application wasn’t considered in a manner that was fair. Djokovic wasn’t the only tennis player to have the visa cancelled, with Renata Voracova of the Czech Republic also had her visa cancelled, and left without the legal battle.

7. Immigration law and policy in Australia is complicated and you need an experienced agent to help you navigate the quagmire of rules and regulations that comprise Australia’s immigration laws.

8. Be careful what you post on social media, especially if it’s an exemption of some type. You could be painting a target on your back.

Notwithstanding the particular issues surrounding Djokovic’s deportation Australia is relaxing border restrictions, on 19 January the government announced a series of visa measures to provide an incentive for fully vaccinated student and working holiday makers to return to Australia as soon as possible to help address current workforce shortages caused by Covid 19.

They also granted extensions to provisional visa holders who are stuck overseas but did emphasise that all international arrivals must be fully vaccinated or hold valid medical exemptions.

I look forward to the day when all of this hysteria associated with Covid 19 will abate but fear it might take a while before the unvaxed are entitled to the same rights and privileges as the vaxed and Australia is not alone in taking such a hard line against the unvaccinated traveller. Until then it feels a bit like living as a Sneetch in a Dr Seuss book.

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