Novak Djokovic is set to be granted a visa to play at next year’s Australian Open despite his high-profile deportation last January.
The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) on Tuesday confirmed newspaper reports that the immigration minister had overturned a potential three-year exclusion period for Djokovic.
The Australian Border Force previously said an exclusion period could be waived in certain circumstances and that each case would be assessed on its merits.
The office of Andrew Giles, Australia’s immigration minister, declined to comment on privacy grounds, meaning any announcement on Djokovic’s visa status would have to come from the 35-year-old Serbian.
The 21-time Grand Slam champion and record nine-time Australian Open winner was not allowed to defend his title this year after a tumultuous 10-day legal saga over his Covid-19 vaccination status that culminated with his visa being revoked on the eve of the tournament.
Djokovic arrived at Melbourne Airport as the world’s top-ranked tennis player with a visa he had obtained online and what he believed to be a valid medical exemption to the country’s strict laws for unvaccinated travellers, because it was endorsed by Tennis Australia and the government of Victoria state, which hosts the tournament.
Confusion reigned, generating global headlines. As it transpired, that medical exemption allowed him entry to the tournament, which required all players, fans and officials to be vaccinated for the coronavirus, but not necessarily to enter the country. It was rejected by the Australian Border Force.
Alex Hawke, Australia’s immigration minister at the time, used discretionary powers to cancel Djokovic’s visa on character grounds, stating he was a “talisman of a community of anti-vaccine sentiment”.
Australia has had a change of government and changed its border rules this year and, since 6 July, incoming travellers no longer have to provide proof of Covid vaccinations. That removed the major barrier to entry for Djokovic.
It allowed him to apply to Mr Giles’s office to reconsider his visa status. In his favour, Djokovic left Australia quickly after his visa was revoked and has not publicly criticized Australian authorities.
As the Department of Home Affairs website explains, applicants in Djokovic’s circumstances must explain in writing to Australia’s border authorities why the exclusion period should be put aside – “You must show us that there are compassionate or compelling circumstances to put aside your re-entry ban and grant you the visa.”
Djokovic indicated on Monday at the ATP Finals in Italy that his lawyers were communicating with the Australian government with a view to him contesting the Australian Open taking place from 16-29 January.