BRISBANE, Australia — A Melbourne-based immigration lawyer says Novak Djokovic would likely be successful if he applied for a visa to enter Australia for the major tennis season opener next year despite his high-profile deportation in January.
This could be as simple as writing to the Australian Border Force, explaining their exceptional circumstances and asking for any re-entry bans to be lifted.
The 21-time Grand Slam singles champion was barred from defending his Australian Open title this year after a tumultuous 10-day legal saga over his COVID-19 vaccination status that resulted in the dismissal of his visa on the eve of the tournament.
This meant he could face a debarment period of up to three years, but Australian Border Force officials said these could be waived in certain circumstances – and each case would be assessed on its merits .
And Djokovic has a case. He arrived at Melbourne airport as the world’s top-ranked tennis player on a visa he had obtained online and what he believed to be a valid medical exemption from the country’s strict laws for non-travellers. vaccinated, as it has been approved by Tennis Australia and the state government of Victoria, which hosts the tournament.
Confusion reigned, generating global headlines. It turned out that this medical exemption allowed him to enter the tournament, which required all players, fans and officials to be vaccinated against the coronavirus, but not necessarily to enter the country. He was rejected by the Australian Border Force.
Australian Immigration Minister Alex Hawke eventually used discretionary powers to cancel Djokovic’s visa on character grounds, saying he was a “talisman of an anti-vaccine sentiment community”.
Immigration lawyer Kon-ming Tsai said he believed it would be “in Australia’s interest” to allow Djokovic to play in the 2023 tournament.
“There’s no risk factor here in letting him come back,” Tsai said in a phone interview with The Associated Press. “He’s not going to create a problem for the community. He is one of the best tennis players in the world and will be able to attract many foreign visitors.
Djokovic has not officially stated whether he will apply for a visa to Australia, with his media group in Belgrade saying he has no information so far regarding the plans of the nine-time Australian Open winner regarding the tournament from January 16 to 29.
Australia changed governments and modified its border rules this year and, as of July 6, inbound travelers no longer have to provide proof of a COVID-19 vaccination. This removes a major barrier of entry for Djokovic.
The 35-year-old Serbian star, who recently won tournaments in Kazakhstan and Israel, can now ask new Immigration Minister Andrew Giles to reconsider his visa status.
In his favor, Djokovic left Australia quickly after his visa was revoked, he did not publicly criticize the Australian authorities and will only apply for a temporary visa.
The first step in the process is to make an official visa application, beginning a two-step procedure.
As the Home Office website explains, applicants in Djokovic’s situation must explain in writing to the Australian Border Force why the debarment period should be waived – “you must show us that there is compassionate or compelling circumstances to overturn your re-entry ban”. and grant you the visa.
The ABF does not comment on individual cases as a matter of principle.
A review of Djokovic’s visa saga has led Tennis Australia to outsource visa applications for players and their entourages to a firm specializing in immigration matters.
That company, Absolute Immigration, was asked to comment on Djokovic’s status but did not immediately respond.
At the launch of the 2023 Australian Open at Melbourne Park, tournament director Craig Tiley said Tennis Australia wanted to welcome Djokovic back but could not give him any official support as he lobbied the Australian government.
“It’s not an issue that we can pressure. It’s an issue that definitely stays between the two of them,” Tiley said, referring to Djokovic and the Australian government.
Tiley has been heavily criticized for his role in the confusion that led to Djokovic being held in an immigration hotel.
After meeting him in London last month, Tiley said he thought Djokovic had no bitterness about the saga.
“He said he obviously would like to come back to Australia, but he knows it will be an ultimate decision for the federal government and he accepts that,” said Tiley, who is also the chief executive of Tennis Australia. “If you notice, he plays a lot of tennis at the end of the year in anticipation and hopes his candidacy will be successful. But it depends on him.
If Djokovic goes that route, Malaysian-born Tsai said his decade-long experience dealing with Australian immigration laws made him think it would likely result in a decision in Djokovic’s favour.
“At the end of the day, it’s in Australia’s interest to lift the ban and bring Djokovic back,” Tsai said.