Being granted a permanent residency in Australia means you can travel in and out of the country as many times as you want until your travel facility expires. What many people do not realize, however, is that the travel facility is valid for only five years. If you leave Australia after this five year window, or the travel facility expires when you are outside the country, you will not be able to return to Australia as a permanent resident unless you first obtain a separate "Resident Return" visa.
Understanding the Travel Restrictions on a Permanent Visa
Holding a permanent residency visa in Australia allows you to remain in the country indefinitely and travel freely to and from Australia for a period of five years. If you wish to continue traveling in and out of Australia after the five-year travel facility expires, you must obtain full Australian citizenship or a Resident Return Visa. Citizenship is generally the preferred option as this gives you the right to apply for an Australian passport. The passport confers an unrestricted right to travel. But if you don't meet the strict citizenship requirements, then an RRV might be the next best thing.
Five Year Versus 12-Month Resident Return Visa
There are two main types of RRVs. The five-year option or "subclass 155" visa is available if you can show that you have spent at least two of the last five years in Australia. If you don't meet the residency test, you'll have to apply for a 12-month RRV. This gives you a travel facility for up to one year. To obtain the 12-month Resident Return Visa, you will need to show that you have substantial family, employment, cultural or personal ties that are of benefit to Australia. For example, you would need to show that your close relatives live in the country, that you have a job offer or you've enrolled your children in an Australian school.
Good Character and Other Tests
Australian permanent residents and former permanent residents can apply for an RRV. You must hold a valid passport at the time of your application and meet the "good character" requirement, meaning you have no substantial criminal record and you've exhibited good general behavior. Your application will be denied if you've had a previous visa canceled or refused. This usually occurs due to a violation of a visa condition or because your circumstances have changed such that you not longer qualify for a residency visa.
If you acquired an Authority to Return or Return Endorsement on your passport before 1986, you should not apply for an RRV. Your current stamps are likely still valid for foreign travel. Check with the Australian Home Affairs' Department for details of what you need to do next.
How to Apply for an RRV
The easiest way to apply is by submitting your application online. You first need to create an account using the Australian Department of Home Affairs' "ImmiAccount" system. Then, select the type of RRV you wish to apply for and follow the steps on screen; you'll find a helpful step-by-step guide on the Australian Home Affairs' Department website. The cost is AUD375 for online applications or AUD455 for paper applications in January 2019. You might also have to pay other costs for police checks and biometrics, although this is unlikely for this type of visa.
Applications that meet the two-year residency requirement are normally processed within five working days; 12-month visa applications may take longer.
How to Get an Emergency Travel Visa
If you do not meet either of the residency or close ties requirements, you may be able to apply for a three-month emergency travel facility – enough for one trip. To be eligible for this type of visa, you need to have spent at least one day of the last five years in Australia, and be able to show that you have compelling reasons for leaving the country.