CANBERRA – In a diplomatic win, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has secured an Australian exemption from U.S. President Donald Trump's controversial 90-day Muslim travel ban, although it is uncertain if extra layers of immigration vetting will now apply to some travelling Australians.
Turnbull has announced that Australian dual nationals, who have citizenship from one of the seven majority-Muslim countries targeted by Trump, will no longer be automatically blocked by U.S. border officials.
"We have received confirmation from the White House this morning that Australian passport holders will be able to travel to and from the United States in the normal way," the Prime Minister told reporters in Canberra.
"They won't be affected by the recent executive order of the 27th of January regardless of whether they are dual citizens of another country or where they were born."
It's regarded as "preferential" consular treatment which has been given to other U.S. allies, such as the United Kingdom and Canada, and comes after a lobbying effort by Australian officials in Washington ordered by Foreign Minister Julie Bishop.
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But Turnbull has still refused to comment on the travel ban. Significantly, the leaders of United Kingdom and Canada criticised the Trump ban, but have the exemption.
"We have a very strong relationship with the United States. We work very closely with them," Turnbull told Sky News.
"We have very strong relations with the new administration and we are very engaged."
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFAT) is now citing "with limited exceptions" when it offers advice on the Smart Traveller website to Australians who have travelled to Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria or Yemen since 1 March 2011.
An extra layer of vetting can be seen, as DFAT advises these Australians must apply for a United States visa as they are "no longer eligible" to enter the United States under the Visa Waiver Program.
But without the exemption announced by Turnbull on Tuesday, thousands of Australian passport holders could have been caught up in the travel ban. It is understood, more than 110,000 Australian residents were born in one of these seven countries.
One case, that of a schoolboy and dual Australian-Iranian passport holder told his visa could not proceed, was put to the Prime Minister in Canberra. Turnbull said he needed more information to respond to that case.
"Well, I've seen that report and of course we don't know all the facts surrounding that, but in the light of the assurance that has been given today, it may be that that case can be reconsidered," he said.
"There may be other factors, but that is really an individual case."
At the same time, the Prime Minister has defended his public fence sitting on the subject of Trump's ban after being chided and lobbied for not following other world leaders in their condemnation.
The Turnbull Government had just secured Trump support for the Obama-negotiated refugee resettlement deal for detainees on Manus Island and Nauru. While not specifically confirming a link between the two immigration issues, Turnbull has conceded an Australian, or at least Government, interest in keeping its own counsel.
"When I have frank advice to give to an American president, I give it privately," Turnbull said.
"As good friends should, as wise prime ministers do, when they want to ensure they are best able to protect Australians and Australians' national interest.
"Others can engage in commentary."
"My job is to stand up for Australia, Australian interests, and deliver, and that's what we've done today."