More than 1000 foreign citizens have been allowed into Australia on compassionate grounds since travel bans were put in place to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
Although there has been a general travel ban on all foreign citizens visiting Australia since March 20, travellers are able to apply to Australian Border Force commissioner Michael Outram on humanitarian or compassionate grounds.
The Sun-Herald and The Sunday Age can reveal Border Force has allowed in 1186 non-citizens under the exemption between March 20 and June 18.
Over the same time period, the Border Force commissioner received 1476 referrals for consideration of an exemption from the travel ban on compassionate grounds – meaning at least 290 people were rejected. A referral can cover more than one person.
The more than 1000 foreign citizens who were allowed into the country still had to undertake a mandatory 14-day quarantine in a designated facility such as a hotel.
They did not include foreign nationals travelling at the invitation of the Australian government for the purpose of assisting in the COVID-19 response, people aiding in the delivery of critical medical supplies, people with critical skills and diplomats accredited to Australia and their immediate family.
There is no specific criteria for a “compassionate” reason, but many of the people are believed to be temporary visa holders with family in Australia. It is unclear what countries they came from.
While foreign nationals have been banned from visiting the country, Australian citizens and permanent residents have also been restricted from leaving the country unless they have an exemption.
Border Force granted 5797 Australian citizens and permanent residents permission to leave Australia on compassionate or humanitarian grounds over the same time.
Sydney man Bon Lee was given an exemption to leave Australia to visit his 93-year-old grandfather in Hong Kong after he suffered a serious fall and required surgery.
Mr Lee is currently self-quarantining in a Hong Kong hotel room for 14 days with his wife. They will get out of isolation on Sunday and then can visit his grandfather.
The couple have to wear a wrist band with a GPS tracking device at all times, which would trigger an alert if they tried to leave the hotel.