Here’s what cuts to international arrival caps could mean for Aussies waiting to come home

For the next five days international arrivals to Melbourne will be paused.

For the next five days international arrivals to Melbourne will be paused. Photo: ABC News/Dean Faulkner

Under recent changes to the rules around international arrivals, the number of flights returning to Australia has been reduced.

Until next month, the number of international arrivals into New South WalesQueensland and Western Australia will be halved “to manage the flow of returning Australians and other travellers who have been potentially exposed to the new variants” of coronavirus.

So what does this mean for those trying to return home? And what should you do if you have a flight booked?

What’s changing?

Until February 15, NSW will be allowed to take a maximum of 1505 people a week into hotel quarantine.

Queensland will be allowed a maximum of 500 people weekly, while Western Australia will cap numbers at 512.

In contrast, the Northern Territory has announced it will increase its intake to 850 international arrivals a fortnight (up from 600), after the federal government agreed to pay to increase capacity at the Howard Springs quarantine centre near Darwin.

The Commonwealth will make individual agreements with the ACT and Tasmania, while there will be no change in Victoria or South Australia.

Returning Australians and other travellers to Australia must also return a negative COVID-19 test prior to departure.

“Exemptions will only be applied in extenuating circumstances, such as seasonal workers where there is limited access to testing,” the federal government said.

What if I’m supposed to come home this week?

The federal government says international passenger caps will be halved from no later than January 15.

But on January 8, when the announcement was made, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said it was expected to take about a week for arrival numbers to be reduced.

“Regarding the reduction in the caps over … a four-, five-week period, it will take about a week because of the flights that are already in the pipeline, to ramp that down,” Mr Morrison said.

Can I still book a flight home?

Yes, but Smart Traveller has warned that it is up to airlines – not the federal government – to decide who it sells tickets to, and that this could affect your flight into Australia.

“We understand you may have to wait longer than you planned to access these flights, and that they may be expensive,” it said.

Smart Traveller has warned ticket decisions are up to airlines. Photo: AAP/Bianca De Marchi

“Continue to check with your airline or travel provider to discuss your flight options.”

For those still stranded overseas, relevant Australian embassies have provided information on what carriers are operating, and whether government-facilitated flights are available from those locations.

(See: United KingdomUnited States and Hong Kong).

Could my flight get cancelled?


While noting the cap on international arrivals is temporary, Smart Traveller has warned that it “could affect your flight into Australia“.

Returning travellers should confirm their itinerary and travel plans with their airline or travel agent. Photo: ABC News/Natasha Johnson

“If you’re scheduled to fly home to Australia in the coming weeks, confirm your itinerary and travel plans with your airline or travel agent,” it said.

For those trying to return home, it has advised:

  • For questions about visas and other entry and exit requirements, contact the relevant foreign embassy or consulate.
  • For up-to-date advice on local conditions and information on available flights to Australia, check the website of your nearest Australian embassy or high commission and follow them closely on social media.
  • Subscribe to Smart Traveller’s travel advisories and news.
  • Make sure you’ve considered all your available options, and be prepared to put in place alternative arrangements in case your flights are cancelled at short notice, or while en route.
  • If you’re receiving an Australian Government payment, you may be eligible to request an extension so that you continue to receive your payment. Contact Services Australia to discuss your situation.

When will the cap be eased?

The cap will remain in place until February 15.

“Arrangements on international passenger caps will be reviewed by National Cabinet in early February,” the federal government said.

If you’re overseas and have been trying to return to Australia, you can register your details with Smart Traveller via its registration portal.

However, Smart Traveller has cautioned that “registering your details with DFAT does not guarantee”that it can facilitate your return to Australia.


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