A couple of months ago I made a call to the Australian High Commission in Brunei to enquire about Australia visitor visa application. I have previously travelled to Australia three times over the last 10 years and on each occasion I brought my travel documents to the Australian High Commission in Brunei to be processed and then collected later.
This time, however, the person on the phone advised me that visa applications are no longer processed locally at the High Commission office and that all visa applications are now done online using their ETA website.
Due to the nature of my travel document, I specifically highlighted my Brunei PR status and COI travel document to the lady on the phone and asked whether online ETA applications apply for me.
She insisted that visa applications can only be done online via the Australian Electronic Travel Authority (ETA) website.
I followed the instruction, filled in the online form (which accepted my details) and was given an electronic visa number. However, en route to Sydney via Malaysia's LCCT airport, I was stopped by AirAsia from travelling to Sydney.
AirAsia personnel said that they have consulted the Australian High Commission in Kuala Lumpur and it is not acceptable for me to enter the country using an ETA visa with my COI travel document.
My son in Australia immediately made an enquiry with Immigration Australia's Client Feedback line to explain my situation.
The Immigration Department personnel told my son it is true that Australia does not accept COI holders entering the country with an ETA visa and that all COI holders in the region need to apply directly with the Australian High Commission in Kuala Lumpur.
He asked my son to file a formal complaint through their website with a more detailed description of what had happened. Also, while I was at the airport, I was told that there were three similar cases of Brunei COI holders travelling to Australia on the wrong ETA visa making me the fourth victim in that week alone.
Also, the day after when I went to the Australia High Commission in Kuala Lumpur to try and resolve my visa problem, I was told that there was another case with the exact dilemma in that morning itself.
Staff manning the phone at the Australia High Commission in Brunei should provide the right information to the general public who holds COI travel documents.
As a result of this, I have not been able to travel to Sydney to visit my family as planned and ended up with lost travel expenses, air tickets, etc as well as a lot of stress and frustration to add on top of the tiredness and embarrassment that came with the experience.
I have tried to bring the matter to the higher authorities at the Australian High Commission in Brunei but to no avail.
I want to highlight this issue to bring awareness to the public in not making the same mistake I made when travelling to Australia using an ETA visa with a COI travel document.