Now that the trans-Tasman travel bubble has opened, a handful of cunning Aussies have taken advantage of a border loophole finally to visit other continents without government restrictions, The Sun-Herald reports.
The consequences could be severe – fines of up to $66,000 or up to five years in prison – but for some of those who have done it, they say the need to get back to their lives overseas far outweighs any potential penalties.
Here’s how the loophole works.
While people need to obtain special exemption to depart Australia to anywhere other than New Zealand, the Kiwi government doesn’t have any similar restrictions in place.
That means once an Aussie arrives in New Zealand, nobody can really stop them from travelling on to a third country (assuming there are flights available).
The Herald spoke to one Australian man who had been trying in vain to go back to Russia, where he has a job and a girlfriend. With the opening of the trans-Tasman travel bubble, he was able to fly to Auckland, and then to Istanbul, before travelling on home in Moscow.
“I’ve escaped! I get to go back to my life,” he said.
Another woman was able to take advantage of the loophole to reunite with her family in the UK.
While these are just two cases, both Aussie and Kiwi border officials conceded to the Australian Financial Review they they’re currently powerless from stopping people.
That hasn’t stopped the Australian government from ramping up the deterrents. Now any Aussie who goes overseas via New Zealand will need to provide a declaration that they did so on compassionate grounds or to receive medical treatment that’s not available in either Australia or New Zealand.
The consequences of making a false declaration include up to 12 months in prison, but for those who really do live overseas and have no plans on coming back to Australia anytime soon, this might not seem like much of a risk.
A Health Department spokesperson told News.com.au that travelling outside Australia and New Zealand during a global pandemic poses a “significant risk to public health”.
“For that reason outgoing travel to other countries remains restricted,” they said.
Nobody would disagree with that. But for people who really just want to go home and have no plans on travelling anywhere else for the foreseeable future, it’s hard to see how it negatively impacts anyone over here.