The Australian Border Force has sought to correct “misleading” news stories regarding international arrivals to Australia.
On Wednesday The Australian reported that there has been a decline in the percentage of international arrivals that are Australian citizens, with more than half of arrivals being foreign nationals.
The report said the declining number of returning citizens was due to the restrictions on Australia’s quarantine capacity, expensive and regularly cancelled flights, and caps on arrivals.
The following day, the ABF issued a statement claiming that on average, more than 80% of arrivals required to quarantine within the hotel quarantine caps are Australian citizens, permanent residents (PRs) or their immediate family.
“Recent media reporting indicating more than half of all international arrivals into Australia are foreign nationals is misleading, and is contrary to responses the ABF has provided to journalists,” it said.
“Australian citizens, PRs, and their immediate family members are treated as ‘returning Australians’ and are automatically exempt from Australia’s travel restrictions and exemption regime.”
The media report had cited figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics. The ABF said these statistics, which indicate a “high volume of foreign nationals arriving into Australia”, were due to PRs and their immediate family members holding foreign passports.
“There are also a number of passengers arriving into Australia who do not undertake quarantine within the hotel system used by returning Australians,” the ABF added.
These passengers don’t take up places for returning Australians, the agency said, and include air crew, people arriving by air under NZ safe travel zone arrangements and who don’t undertake any form of quarantine, anyone who receives an exemption from hotel quarantine, and groups of travellers who have been approved for private quarantine arrangements (such as sporting teams).
The ABF noted that remaining travellers can receive exemptions in limited circumstances, including when that person has “critical skills”, or for compassionate reasons.
The agency has recommended that any Australians who want to travel overseas should refer to Smartraveller before deciding to travel.
“Risks may include lengthy delays or the inability to return to Australia due to flight availability, which places additional pressure on vulnerable Australians who may have been trying to return home since the start of the pandemic,” it warned.
There are roughly 34,500 people currently registered with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade who wish to return, and almost 5000 of them are classified as ‘vulnerable’.
The ABF said the government’s “first priority” was bringing Australians home.
“Australia’s travel restrictions and travel exemption policy settings support the return of as many Australians as possible by ensuring travel into Australia by a foreign national is limited by the exemption criteria,” it said.
Meanwhile, the UN Human Rights Committee has reportedly ruled that the federal government must facilitate the return of two Australians, who have been overseas for more than a year, and have received a COVID-19 vaccine.