Welcome to the Worldwide Migration Partners immigration update. I'm Melissa Vincenty, and I'm the managing director of Worldwide Migration Partners.
So many of you are eager to get back to international travel - I wanted to provide a quick update on the changes to the process, so you can better prepare for your travel.
I was recently able to travel back to the United States in March so I’m speaking from my own personal experience. For the most part, the airlines are happy to be back. The flight attendants are all super helpful, they’re very happy to answer questions.
I found there was quite a lot of paperwork to do, and a lot of things I had to keep in mind, even more so than usual. So I thought you may benefit from my experience!
Key things to remember about travelling back and forth between Australia and the US:
- May June, July – The US summer months will increase traffic and demand for travel.
- November, December January – Travel will again increase as people return home for the holidays.
- The last year or two was quiet due to international travel restrictions and low volume of flights scheduled. The increased level of complexity also deterred many people.
- This coming year will return to more normal levels as restrictions ease.
It’s important to think ahead and plan for your upcoming trips over the winter and summer periods, particularly since we’re all out of practice.
- Locate your passports – they’ve been in hiding for two years, so you’ll need to remember where you stored them. This includes passports for any children or minors.
- Check their expiry dates:
- Australian Passports are valid for 5 years, and they must remain current for the full period of your travel. Some countries (e.g. Europe) require a minimum of 6 months validity on your passport, before you can gain entry, but this does not apply to America.
- Australian citizens and Dual citizens can renew Australian passports at Australia Post offices – there’s currently six to eight weeks backlog. Expedited renewals are available but still take three to five days.
- US passports can take four weeks to process straightforward adult renewals, since paperwork must be sent to the US Consulate in Perth for processing.
- US children who were under 16 years old for their prior passport, may now need to attend an appointment in person (with both parents) at a local location. If this isn’t possible, then one parent may sign an affidavit giving permission.
- Securing an in-person appointment can be fraught with difficulty – the Consulate in Sydney does not generally offer standard appointments, but may do so in emergencies if travel is imminent (within three weeks).
- City Councils are closed through May, for nonimmigrant visa appointments and foreign appointments. Meaning it’s basically closed for US citizen services, at a time where demand is spiking.
We’ve had clients who have chosen to fly to Melbourne or Perth to access an in-person appointment, since they weren’t able to arrange anything closer to home.
So the further ahead you can plan, the better.
NOTE that the US is rolling out a new style of passport, with a hard, laminated page, which contains a microchip.
Good news for US Passports
If you're a US passport holder, and you've had a previous passport, and that passport expired after January 1 2020, you're now able to travel to the United States on that expired passport.
This will allow you to return to the United States, and then renew your passport onshore. Renewals in this method are also taking several weeks to be processed, so you’ll need to stay in the US long enough for processing. We’ve had several clients planning to take their children for longer visits during this American Summer, which allows them plenty of time to renew their passports before they return to Australia.
Again, planning ahead is important during this time of restrictions, frustrations and complications, when everyone is looking forward to reuniting with their families.
So what about Australian passport renewals, while in the USA?
The challenges are very similar – while there’s quite a few Australian commissions around the US, they’re all experiencing backlogs on both renewing and expediting passports.
The next thing to consider are your travel plans.
The good news is that most of the restrictions have ceased as of April 2022. Measures such as passenger number caps on airlines, travel restrictions and bans are all finished.
We’re not “quite” back to pre-COVID conditions though:
- Fully vaccinated Australian citizens and Permanent Residents no longer need a travel exemption to leave Australia.
- For the Australian Government to define you as “fully vaccinated” you must have had two shots, and you must have an up to date vaccination certificate. Third and fourth “booster” shots are not currently mandatory.
- Travelers who are not Australians or Permanent Residents (temporary visa holders) no longer need an exemption to enter Australia. This is great news for international students.
- Fully vaccinated travelers are not required to quarantine on arrival in Australia, even if you’re continuing on to another domestic location (e.g. WA).
- Unvaccinated Australian Citizens and Permanent residents do not need a travel waiver to enter or leave Australia.
- For Unvaccinated entry to Australia – there may be caps applicable, particularly for people travelling directly to Perth from an overseas origin.
- Unvaccinated International travelers to Perth must undergo mandatory seven day quarantine, at your own expense.
- G2G passes have been discontinued by WA.
Many of my clients choose to enter Australia via another state, and spend time there before continuing on to WA.
NOTE - Wearing a mask is still required in all Australian airports, airlines, and public transport.
In April, the Australian Government, stopped mandating pre-travel rapid antigen tests (RAT) or PCR tests. This applies to both flights, as well as cruises entering Australia. Some cruise lines may still request a test, however this is individual to the cruise operator.
Certain states of Australia may require, or recommend a RAT upon arrival.
- NSW – immediately upon arrival, you are required to travel directly to your home or accommodation, you must undergo a RAT within 24 hours, and should not leave your location until you test negative on a RAT. If you return a positive result, you must register your result on the NSW health app, and remain isolated. There are guidelines that you must follow for 7 days.
- Victoria and Queensland – highly recommends that you test within 24 hours of arrival, and register any positive results. Victoria Health also provides guidelines and suggestions for isolation if you test positive.
Regardless of your origin and destination, most states require recent international arrivals to avoid high risk places such as hospitals or elderly care facilities.
Travelling to the US
- US Citizens or Permanent Residents may not travel to the US without being fully vaccinated.
- You are required to test negative on a supervised RAT. This means you must attend a testing location that provides a report which you can present to your airline at check-in. Note that tests completed at your home are not permitted.
- Across Australia, many chemists are now offering supervised RATs, and will provide proper reporting for travel purposes - you need to specify that you need it for travelling internationally.
- Supervised tests must be completed within 24 hours of your intended travel time.
- Be mindful of the changing rules regarding mask wearing in public, and keep some spare masks with you at all times. Different locations, US States, and airlines all have different polices.
Check ahead and make sure you have the correct report and information for travel to your particular destination, and that your timeframe is appropriate given the increase in demand we’re expecting.
Many airports now have a testing facility prior to check-in, which is used to handling travel tests. Their prices are a bit higher, but they’re very efficient and know what’s required of them. To travel to the US, you’ll only need a $59 RAT, but other destinations may need the full PCR at around $79.
Often you can book ahead of time (which is far more civilized if you’re travelling with a group of people, or children) and you only need to arrive an extra hour or so early. Once you’re tested, you can grab a coffee and receive your results by text, which you then present at the check-in counter.
When travelling to the US, also remember:
- Check your Visa, Visa waiver or ESA is current, hasn’t expired, and your details are up to date.
- You’ll need your International Vaccination Certificate (available from Medicare online). Note that different locations, states and airlines may have different rules regarding your certificate.
- You may want to have multiple copies of these documents with you in case you can’t access one:
- Electronic files saved on your phone.
- Scanned or photographed image in your phone.
Most airlines now (including Qantas) will only allow passengers to check one bag to the United States.
Previously, it was two bags up to around 23 kg, but this policy seems to have changed during COVID – perhaps the increased cost of fuel, or the airlines are trying to maximize their cargo space to make up for revenue shortfall. So be careful if you're changing planes mid journey, and they’re not connecting flights, as one airline may have a different policy to another, and you may get hit with an extra baggage charge.
Finally, when returning to Australia, you may be asked to complete an online passenger declaration stating your COVID status – within 72 hours before your check-in for your flight. Simple questions around whether you’ve ever had COVID, when you were diagnosed, and when you recovered from your illness. Unless you remember dates well, then just be prepared with those dates saved somewhere in your phone, or written down in your carry-on bag. It’s unclear when this form might be discontinued, so be prepared. As it’s online, it’s easy to complete it on your phone or computer prior to check-in – it only takes around 10 minutes, but can cause delays in the check-in process if you’re not prepared, and are trying to complete it while you wait.
So stay tuned for my next update in the coming weeks. I'll be traveling to the US again in June, so I can update you afterwards.
If you have questions, please give us a call at Worldwide Migration Partners. We're going through this process every day for our clients, we know the best way to book passport appointments, the most recent COVID testing rules. So if you need to ask questions about your particular situation, please give us a call or find out on our website www.worldwidemigrationpartners.com.
Enjoy and Happy travels.
About The Author
Melissa Vincenty is a US attorney, an Australian migration agent and the founder and managing director of Worldwide Migration Partners. Melissa has over 20 years of experience in migration law, including practising at the world’s largest US immigration firm and more than 15 years as a Country Specialist (China and Tibet) for Amnesty International USA.