Return to Australia: No Qantas flights for students from India yet

Qantas flights
From mid-December 2021, Qantas flights could start from Australia to COVID-safe destinations, or low risk countries for vaccinated travellers. Source: Saeed Khan/AFP

Is flying to Australia via Qantas flights possible for international students and temporary visa holders from India? According to SBS Punjabi, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) said only Australian citizens, permanent residents and their immediate family members are being offered seats on government-facilitated commercial flights from India. 

International student Rishi Ravindra Naik was among the first few visa holders to receive an inbound travel exemption from the Australian Border Force (ABF) days after the Australian government removed India from the list of “high risk” countries. It reportedly took him several months and eight attempts to get an exemption.

Naik was scrambling to find an affordable ticket after discovering that temporary visa holders cannot book Qantas flights despite having a valid visa and travel exemption. The national carrier said on its website: “There is a travel ban in place in Australia. Any passenger who is not an Australian citizen or permanent resident will require a valid visa, and an exemption to the travel ban, to board these flights. Passengers wishing to transit Australia and continue onto another country won’t be accepted for travel.”

This information contradicts the DFAT email he received which states that only Australian citizens and permanent residents or their immediate families can get these flights. “And why are they sending out email alerts and flight codes to temporary visa holders if they aren’t eligible for these flights? There is a lot of confusion,” Naik was quoted saying. 

Qantas flights

Currently, temporary visa holders cannot book government-facilitated Qantas flights despite having a valid visa and travel exemption. Source: William West/AFP

No Qantas flights for temporary visa holders — for now

According to information on Australia’s Department of Home Affairs webpage, individual exemptions could be granted by the Commissioner of the Australian Border Force. These include:

  • Students who have been selected to take part in an International Student Arrivals Plan 
  • Students in their final three years of study of a medical university degree
  • Students in their final two years of study of a dental, nursing or allied health profession university degree

The carrier announced a gradual restart of international Qantas flights from mid-December 2021, with plans linked to the vaccination rollout in Australia and key international markets. “On current projections, Australia is expected to reach [the] National Cabinet’s 80% vaccination threshold in December 2021, which would trigger the gradual reopening of international borders,” it said on its website. “If assumptions change or dates move, our restart plans will be adjusted accordingly and we’ll keep you updated.”

From mid-December 2021, Qantas flights could start from Australia to COVID-safe destinations, or low-risk countries for vaccinated travellers, pending decisions by the Australian government and entry policies of other countries. This is likely to include Singapore, the US, Japan, the UK, Canada and Fiji. The rest of the Qantas international network is planned to open up from April 2022.