According to the budget outlook, it is assumed that the travel ban will be lifted between January 1 and June 30, 2021, but a two-week mandatory quarantine will remain in place for all returning travellers to Australia.
“This leads to the resumption of arrivals by temporary and permanent migrants, but at lower levels overall than normal,” indicates Australia’s first economic and fiscal update since the coronavirus outbreak as the country navigates its biggest economic downturn since World War II.
The other key takeaway of the budget outlook predicts that the net overseas migration is likely to fall from 232,000 in 2018-19 to 154,000 in 2019-20 and 31,000 in 2020-21 as has been previously envisaged.
The outlook further reveals that only citizens, permanent residents, New Zealanders, and a small number of international students will be able to travel to Australia between July and December 2020 “based on announced policy to date.”
But even though today’s outlook was based on assumption that the travel ban will be lifted early next year, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg insisted that the Morrison government has not yet made any policy decision regarding the opening of international borders.
“In terms of the borders, the assumptions are that it very gradually starts to come back…that the quarantine is applied, and you start potentially bringing in some international students,” he said.
Mr Frydenberg added that most of the Treasury’s forecasts about international border restrictions were made in dynamic conditions and are subject to change in accordance with the evolving coronavirus situation in the country and across the globe.
“Now that is work that we have been undertaking but of course the environment with respect to coronavirus is very fluid so decisions haven’t been taken about start dates for that, but these are Treasury’s forecasts and as you can understand it’s a very dynamic environment and a very uncertain environment,” he added.
‘Reopening of borders in January sounds very optimistic’
Reacting to the announcement, Former senior Immigration Department official Abul Rizvi told SBS Punjabi that the assumption that borders will reopen in January sounds “very optimistic.”
“But that does mean that they are anticipating a decent-sized migration program in this financial year,” he said.
Mr Rizvi believes the key driver behind this assumption is the keenness to facilitate the return of international students to Australia, 20 per cent of whom are currently stranded overseas.
“I think the reason that they have gone for the assumption of reopening the borders in January is that they want to allow a large number of overseas students and they need to do that because if they don’t the universities are going to be in all sorts of trouble,” he said.
Mr Rizvi added that a January deadline could also lead to a recommencement of visa processing for offshore permanent residency aspirants later this year.
“Assuming they are going for border opening in January, that means they could start processing permanent resident applications in November-December for offshore applicants because that would assume that the limit on overseas arrivals has been lifted. And if both these things happen, it’s quite possible for them to have a reasonably large-sized migration program,” added Mr Rizvi.
But what about the temporary visa holders who are currently stranded offshore?
Sai Suraj is one of the thousands of visa holders seeking to enter the country ever since the federal government closed its borders to non-resident international arrivals on March 21, a key measure that has been credited for Australia’s success in suppressing COVID-19.
The 26-year-old who remains stranded in south India feels temporary migrants may have once again fallen through the cracks, many of whom were hoping for a sooner return than January next year.
“January is extremely far away and spells doom for people who are nearing the expiration of their visas later this year. Most of the visas either cannot be extended offshore and require applicants to apply for a new visa. And if the government continues to delay reopening of borders this could very well be an end of an Australian dream for many,” he said.
Mr Rizvi said temporary migrants will not be able to enter the country until the federal government decides to remove the recent capping on international arrivals.
“The key thing limiting the temporary visa holders is the 4000 per week cap on international arrivals and until they remove that cap and the assumption is that they remove that cap in January, that’s when temporary migrants will be allowed into Australia it seems,” he said.
Mr Suraj, who is nearing competition of his professional year added that if the government has decided to extend the travel ban until next year, “they need to inform us now.”
“Our lives and livelihoods are at stake. If I don’t complete my professional year before January next year, everything that I have studied and invested in – my time, effort, and money would go to waste.
“It is high time that the Australian government gave us some specific timeline so that we can decide whether it would be worth the wait or it’s time to move on,” he said.