Stranded Aussie expats have begun using the trans-Tasman bubble as a means to return home, risking huge fines and possible jail time.
Savvy Australians with families or jobs overseas are taking advantage of a loophole in the trans-Tasman bubble to travel to a third country via New Zealand, thwarting the government’s strict travel restrictions.
The bubble opened up last Monday and allows Aussies and Kiwis to travel between Australia and New Zealand without undergoing 14 days of mandatory quarantine.
However, Health Minister Greg Hunt made an amendment to the Biosecurity Act on 18 April requiring Australians travelling to New Zealand and then onto another country to provide a signed statement to officials on their return to Australia confirming they travelled beyond New Zealand for a ‘compassionate reason’ or ‘urgent medical treatment that was not reasonably available in Australia or New Zealand’.
Even so, last week a spokesperson for Border Force told Traveller that New Zealand authorities would not prevent Australians from travelling to other countries.
“Currently, New Zealand does not prevent Australian citizens from leaving New Zealand and travelling onwards overseas. However, anyone arriving into Australia or New Zealand from any other country must enter into quarantine or mandatory isolation as directed by the relevant government departments and health authorities,” the spokesperson said.
One of the first Australians who managed to utilise the loophole, Tim Byrnes, flew to Auckland last week with the intention of travelling onto Russia.
“I’ve escaped! I get to go back to my life,” he told The Sydney Morning Herald.
According to SMH, Byrnes who had been living in Russia since 2016, returned to Australia in January last year for a legal matter and was visiting family in Tamworth when international borders closed.
He said he applied for an exemption to return to Moscow because he has a job and a girlfriend there, but was refused.
Though Byrnes plans to return to Australia after the pandemic, he isn’t worried about penalties for breaching the requirements of the Biosecurity Act.
“Once the biosecurity threat goes, I think it’s a chapter that the government will probably want to forget,” Byrnes said.
Those who fail to comply with the Act could face fines of up to $6,660 plus up to $66,600 or five years in jail for not complying with an emergency determination.
More than 4.4 million Australians are dual citizens, making the travel ban particularly gruelling for those with family, cultural ties, or employment overseas.
The only way for Australians to get an exemption to the travel ban, besides risking the loophole like Byrnes, is to be approved by the government for compassionate reasons (including serious illness or death of a family member), urgent business or for trips longer than three months.
It is being widely reported that such exemptions are very difficult to obtain.
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