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Australians who live abroad denied permission to return overseas despite promises

When news of the change emerged, it caught expats in Australia off guard. Many people have scrambled to get COVID-19 tests and rebook flights to beat the deadline, while others rushed to submit exemption applications.

Despite the minister’s assurances on Saturday, there have been rejections as well as approvals since.

Border Force declined an exemption request for Heléna Blackberry, 17, who is attending an elite ballet school in Switzerland to return for her second year of study.

Elite ballerina Heléna Blackberry at her Brisbane home.

Elite ballerina Heléna Blackberry at her Brisbane home. Credit:Paul Harris

Heléna was away for 11 of the last 12 months, before returning home to Brisbane for a break. After spending most of her visit in hotel quarantine and lockdown, she is due to return on Friday.

Her mother Gina Blackberry submitted the exemption request on Friday, using the category for people who intend to be outside Australia for more than three months, since at the time there was not an “ordinarily resident abroad” category on the form.

On Sunday night Ms Blackberry said Heléna was “stoic” and confident she would eventually secure an exemption. On Monday evening her faith was rewarded – after publication of this article online, the family received an exemption despite not having submitted a new application. “The article has worked miracles,” Ms Blackberry said.

Ms Blackberry criticised the “backhanded” way the government made the change but did not announce it, leaving people to find out on Facebook, and the “hypocrisy” given the allowances made for athletes to attend the Tokyo Olympics.

“My daughter’s just as elite as they are – she’s not representing the country, but this is her lifelong dream and she’s managed to get into an international ballet school, and the same affordances aren’t being made for her even though she won’t return for 12 months,” Ms Blackberry said.

Omar Taheri said he has lived in Singapore for 10 years and came back to Sydney in June for two months to visit family.

Omar Taheri is eager to return home to Singapore after visiting family in Sydney.

Omar Taheri is eager to return home to Singapore after visiting family in Sydney. Credit:Kate Geraghty

He was due to fly back this Saturday as his pregnant wife and his employees are waiting for him. However, he too had his travel exemption request denied on Sunday.

“I have been doing the right thing and following the government’s COVID rules but this rejection has really not made me feel proud to be Australian,” Mr Taheri said. ”The compassion and sense is lacking in this difficult period.“ He resubmitted on Monday and was approved in the evening.

David Kennedy in Hong Kong is trying to organise an exemption for his two sons, aged 11 and 17, who are in Australia to visit their sister.

The boys, one who lives in Hong Kong and the other who is at boarding school in Britain, need to go back to school. They are in Australia with their mother, a British citizen who needs to leave because her tourist visa is set to expire.


Mr Kennedy submitted the application with evidence the boys are ordinarily residents overseas on Friday, after hearing about the rule change on social media. On Sunday, his wife received a call from Border Force, saying they needed to resubmit and tick the box that says you are ordinarily a resident overseas. However, although the cover page on the website had been updated, the form itself at the time hadn’t and stated people who ordinarily live overseas don’t need to apply.

“They rejected it on the basis that we haven’t ticked a box that doesn’t exist, which to me just seems bureaucratic madness,” he said.

“I called Border Force this morning and the gentleman I spoke to hadn’t even heard of the change. It’s been rushed through and it seems to lack basic fairness and logic.”

Mr Kennedy said he didn’t agree with the change but it should at least be grandfathered for people already in Australia or done with proper notice.

In theory, Australians overseas will in future be able to apply for an exemption before they come to Australia. However, under present rules people can only apply for an outbound exemption less than three months before they plan to leave Australia which would create complications for people coming for longer trips.

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