Australian visa holders blocked from travel again: What happens now?
The federal government has pushed back Australia's planned easing of border restrictions for eligible visa holders and international students until 15 December.
Australia's borders will no longer reopen for international students and eligible visa holders on Wednesday as originally planned.
The federal government has postponed its reopening plan so it has time to gather more information about the new Omicron variant of COVID-19.
"The temporary pause will ensure Australia can gather the information we need to better understand the Omicron variant, including the efficacy of the vaccine, the range of illness, including if it may generate more mild symptoms, and the level of transmission," a statement issued by Prime Minister Scott Morrison said.
What has changed?
Originally, eligible visa holders as outlined on the Home Affairs website, including those on the 482, 500 and 490, were able to enter Australia from 1 December 2021. This included allowing temporary visa holders living in Australia to leave and re-enter the country without needing to apply for a travel exemption – previously only Australians and permanent residents could do this.
On Saturday, border restrictions were reintroduced on several countries in southern Africa where the Omicron variant has been detected. These countries include South Africa, Lesotho, Eswatini, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Seychelles, Mozambique and Malawi.
Anyone who has been in these countries in the last 14 days are not allowed to enter Australia, even if they hold a travel exemption, eligible visa or are seeking to enter under a Safe Travel Zone arrangement.
Only Australian citizens, permanent residents and their immediate family can enter Australia but, according to the Home Affairs website, "must enter supervised quarantine for 14 days in line with state and territory requirements, irrespective of their vaccination status."
The government has also delayed the reopening of travel with Japan and the Republic of Korea until 15 December.
What do the changes mean for visa holders in Australia?
Existing visa holders can still leave the country. However, they will not be able to re-enter until 15 December.
For many temporary residents in Australia who have already booked flights overseas, like Mariam Gabaji, the delay is cause for concern.
"The uncertainty of being unable to come back to Australia is brutal, but I'm still holding out hope that I'll get to travel back home to Pakistan on 11 December and things will be okay for me to come back in January," said Gabaji, adding:
"I haven't seen my family in 2 years and I'm going to be beyond devastated if things take a turn for the worse.
"I thought Australia was done with its knee-jerk reactions but clearly it does much better at disappointing its skilled migrants that play such a massive role in boosting its economy. My only hope is Omicron turns out to be a less threatening variant."
What to do if you've booked a trip overseas
If you're a temporary visa holder and you haven't yet booked an international trip, it may be worth delaying until more is known about the Omicron variant and whether it poses a greater threat than the Delta strain.
For those in the same boat as Gabaji, it's a waiting game right now. Don't cancel your trip, even if it looks unlikely to go ahead. This may count as a change of mind and you may not be able to get a refund or credit for flights, even if they are subsequently cancelled. Wait for the airline itself to offer a refund or credit before you cancel your trip.
"It's often trickier to get a refund or flight credit with a third-party operator than if you book directly with the airline," says travel writer Dylan Crismale.
"This is because booking with the airline cuts out the middleman so you can deal directly with the airline to recover any money in case of cancellations," added Crismale.
Can travel insurance cover border closures or PCR tests?
Unfortunately, travel insurance generally does not cover cancellation costs related to government-enforced border closures or lockdowns – which is why it's worth confirming your carrier's COVID-19 refund or credit policy.
It also won't cover costs related to quarantine if you knew about them in advance and you will have to pay for COVID tests yourself. Many countries including the UK now require travellers to get a PCR test within 72 hours prior to departure, as does Australia.
Should you still get travel insurance?
At the time of writing, travel insurers haven't added exclusions related to the new Omicron variant.
"We don't have any plans to update or alter our insurance cover due to the emergence of the new Omicron strain of COVID-19. However, we are continuing to monitor the situation closely," said Southern Cross Travel Insurance CEO, Jo McCauley.
"We have been speaking with our customers regularly and, given that travel requirements are changing very quickly, we are advising them to check their destinations on Smartraveller for the most up-to-date travel advisories before departing on holiday.
"The key thing to remember is that 'pandemics' typically remain a general exclusion in many travel insurance policies so the only benefits for which you can claim are likely to be those listed in the insurer's COVID-19 cover. That is why it's so important to read the policy wording carefully," added McCauley.
It's also worth taking out travel insurance as soon as you book your trip. This is because it can cover cancellations that are not related to COVID-19 – for example, if you become unwell or are injured and you can't travel.
Some policies do provide cover for some COVID-related expenses. Finder looked at 34 travel insurance policies and found 3 partner brands that include COVID-related cover: Southern Cross Travel Insurance, Fast Cover and Cover More.
These insurers can all cover temporary residents who reside in Australia, though it's worth checking with them beforehand to make sure. They can pay towards the following:
- Trip rearrangement costs if you, a fellow traveller or your host gets COVID-19 and it impacts your trip.
- Expenses if you're unexpectedly forced into quarantine during your trip.
- COVID-19 medical expenses.
It's also worth remembering that several countries including Indonesia, Thailand and Singapore require travellers to have COVID medical travel insurance in place when they visit.
If you're a temporary visa holder, hang in there. The situation should become clearer in the next couple of weeks as more is learned about the Omicron variant. We'll keep this page updated as events unfold. You can head to our COVID travel insurance page for more information about what is and isn't covered.