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Novak Djokovic was released from a Melbourne immigration detention center on Monday after Australian federal circuit court judge Anthony Kelly overturned his visa cancellation, essentially clearing the way for him to compete at the upcoming Australian Open.
Djokovic had been held at the detention center since last week. He'd been at the airport trying to go through customs when Australian immigration authorities revoked his visa after deciding that the unvaccinated Djokovic didn't qualify for an exemption from Australia's rule that all non-citizens be vaccinated in order to enter the country.
Australia has strict rules governing quarantine and travel for both the vaccinated and unvaccinated, and every player, staff member and spectator who attends or competes in the Australian Open is required to be vaccinated. But local authorities in Melbourne gave Djokovic a medical exemption from the vaccine rules to compete.
The reason for the exemption wasn't given at the time, but it has since been revealed that Djokovic contracted COVID-19 for the second time in mid-December, which led the local panel of doctors to decide that Djokovic didn't need to be vaccinated. However, federal immigration authorities use their own criteria to decide if an unvaccinated non-citizen should be given an exemption, and don't have to honor local exemptions. They decided that Djokovic's recent infection didn't meet the exemption criteria.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the Australian government admitted that Australian immigration didn't follow proper procedure after deciding that his recent COVID-19 infection didn't exempt him from Australia's vaccine mandate.
Djokovic was questioned for about eight hours through the night at Melbourne’s Tullamarine airport and should have been given until 8:30 a.m. local time to respond to notice that authorities intended to cancel his visa. The decision was made 48 minutes before that, denying Djokovic more time to consult with his lawyers.
It's that error that led Kelly to overturn Djokovic's visa cancellation and grant him entrance to Australia.
Djokovic still not in the clear
While Djokovic is allowed to stay in Melbourne, that might not be the end of this saga. The Wall Street Journal reported that the immigration minister still has the power to cancel his visa for a wide variety of reasons. That would be an extraordinary step, but it's not out of the question. The Australian public had an overwhelmingly negative response to the anti-vaccine Djokovic being granted an exemption, believing that he was being given special treatment due to his celebrity status. However, it's not known if the public's reaction could figure into the immigration minister's decision.
If Djokovic's visa is cancelled again and he's deported, it has long-ranging effects. He wouldn't be able to return to Australia for three years, meaning he would miss not just the 2022 Australian Open, but the 2023 and 2024 editions well.
A spokesperson said Monday that the immigration minister is still "considering the matter," but that a decision should be made relatively quickly.