The Djokovic visa case – could it happen to me?
Whatever your stance on vaccination and the wisdom (or otherwise) of the decision by Tennis Australia to allow Djokovic to participate in the Australian Tennis Open, it is clear that none of the major players have covered themselves in glory and a situation that could have been dealt with weeks ago has been allowed to go to the wire.
The Djokovic case has shone a light on the Australian immigration system and much of the media has focused on what it has described as a harsh and draconian immigration system, with the Australian Immigration Minister appearing to wield limitless power to grant or deny entry to Australia at his discretion. But is the Australian immigration system with which the professional tennis fraternity has recently had to do battle so much more stringent than our own? Would Djokovic have been treated more leniently here?
The differences in the COVID-19 entry rules between Australia and the UK make it a little difficult to compare. However, it is worth remembering that the Secretary of State for the Home Department has a wide discretion to revoke or refuse a visa to the UK. That might, for example, be on the grounds that a person’s presence in the UK is not deemed conducive to the public good or is damaging for public health. One can see parallels between the Australian and UK immigration systems in that sense and it is unsurprising that a Minister for Immigration should retain overall discretion on such matters.
Of more interest to the wider group of visa holders and visa applicants is the issue of false representations, another issue where Djokovic seems to have met his match. Under the UK rules, a visa application must be refused where false representations are made, or false documents or false information are submitted. It matters not whether the false information or representations are relevant to an application. It also doesn’t matter if a third party (such as a visa agent, solicitor or family member) provides the information on the applicant’s behalf and the applicant is completely unaware of the issue, perhaps signing their visa form without reviewing it, as it seems Djokovic may have done. The responsibility for all information declared, and documents provided, in the context of border control lies squarely, according to the UK’s Immigration Rules, at the applicant’s door. As you might imagine, this can lead to unfairness.
A decision to refuse or revoke a visa on the grounds that false information or documentation has been provided can also have some fairly horrendous consequences. For his part, Djokovic could apparently be prevented from re-entering Australia for up to three years. In the UK, there are re-entry bans varying in length from one year (for breaching a visa condition or overstaying a visa for more than 30 days) to five years for overstaying for more than six months, and ten years where, among other things, someone has used ‘deception’ in an application.
It is also worth remembering that the penalties are the same where relevant information is withheld. Visa applicants are required to provide some quite in-depth information about their background when submitting their applications, including any previous convictions and penalties, including driving offences. It is often tempting to gloss over the importance of providing that information accurately or to inadvertently fail to disclose something which the Home Office might pick up on and consider important.
Honesty is the best policy as far as immigration applications are concerned. Full disclosure is generally the way forward, unless the information or disclosures are so trivial as to not warrant a mention. Regardless of the extent which Djokovic’s failure to disclose previous travel and his contravention of the COVID-19 isolation rules were determinative of the cancellation of his visa, clearly there are lessons to be learned for us all when navigating the immigration minefield.