Immigration expert clarifies details around Novak Djokovic visa debacle

19 January 2022 3 min. read
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Novak Djokovic’s deportation was supported by the majority of Australians, but a three-year ban was one area of consternation. Addressing the issue, Maria Jockel, a global immigration leader at BDO, has cleared up a number of issues around the debacle.

In an insight piece, Jockel has clarified a number of points around Novak Djokovic’s recently cancelled visa to compete at the Australian Open, in what became a confusing bureaucratic fiasco which for days captured the world’s attention and shone a spotlight on Australia’s draconian border laws – laws and control measures which Jockel describes as possibly the most complex and dynamic in the world.

A threadbare recap, for those who may have been isolating in a cave. The Serbian tennis star touched down in Melbourne on the 5th of January in his bid to claim a record 21st men’s Grand Slam singles title, before having his visa revoked due to being unvaccinated against Covid-19. That decision was initially overturned by the courts on procedural grounds, prompting Australian Immigration to again cancel the visa through special ministerial powers.

Immigration expert clarifies details around Novak Djokovic visa debacle

Now that the saga has played out, resulting in Djokivic’s deportation, the most salient point Jockel makes is in relation to the widely-reported blanket three-year re-entry ban following removal from Australia if the minister exercises such powers, which has the potential for serious ramifications in the context of Djokivic’s record title chase and history of dominance at the Australian Open.

But unlike the courts at Melbourne Park, the rules aren’t so hard and fast. According to Jockel – who is considered one of Australia’s leading immigration law specialists – the serving immigration minister can waive the ban on a future visa application if they consider it to be in Australia’s interests to do so. That case could be quite easily made, considering Djokovic’s immense drawing power for what is one of Australia’s biggest international showcases, said to be worth over $2.7 billion in economic benefits over the past decade.

Vaccination status aside, the world’s number one player may however run into some issues concerning his recent application, and could even consider himself lucky to escape Australia with a deportation stamp alone. During his brief sojourn in Australia, Djokivic took to social media to defend errors in his visa application after internet sleuths had uncovered undeclared travel between Serbia and Spain in the 14 days prior to his arrival in Australia.

Djokovic acknowledged that he had indeed travelled, but ultimately blamed the agent who had filled out the forms on his behalf. Here, Jockel points to the 2015 Biosecurity Act, which outlines that the applicant is solely responsible for the information provided in the travel declaration, regardless of whether it was unintentionally inaccurate or completed by an agent, with potential penalties of up to one year in prison for providing false or misleading information.

Lessons learned?

Ultimately, Jockel says there are a number of lessons to be learned for non-citizens seeking to enter Australia, the first being that the granting of a visa doesn't necessarily mean that the applicant has met other entry requirements – which has been a hot topic of debate in the aftermath of the saga, as to why the Commonwealth government issued a visa in the first place. Also, the regulation is now clear; prior Covid-19 infections don’t qualify as an exemption to vaccination requirements.

“Australia’s visa and entry requirements are complex, highly codified and subject to frequent change in response to the objectives of the Commonwealth Government and Australia’s Migration Program,” concludes Jockel, who has been with BDO for the past five years and was previously the national immigration leader at commercial law firm Holding Redlich. “Seeking specialist advice will best enable visa and entry to be achieved while ensuring compliance.”