Protocol Guidelines

4. Visas and accreditation

4.1 Nominations and appointments

All home-based staff of diplomatic missions and consular posts in Australia must be formally nominated and accepted before taking up their appointments. This is effectively managed through the request for and grant of diplomatic visas for new staff members and their dependants. The sending state’s clear advice of the officer being replaced or, in the case of new positions, the functions to be performed assists with determination of the level of diplomatic or consular accreditation to be granted. 

4.1.1 Dependants

Provided they are formally nominated by the foreign ministry of the sending state, the Australian Government will accept as dependants a spouse and unmarried children up to 21 years of age who form part of the officer’s physical household. Same sex or de facto partners will be accepted, provided they are formally nominated by the sending state.

As a courtesy, unmarried children who are over 21 but not more than 24 years of age and who can demonstrate they are undertaking full-time studies at an Australian educational institution in the city of the officer’s posting may also be granted diplomatic visas. Where fees are paid by semester, the mission must forward copies of payment receipts to Protocol Branch as they are paid. Even if the dependant has a visa valid until the following April, the department requires evidence of payment of second semester fees by mid-September. Failure to provide receipts could jeopardise the dependant's eligibility for future visa renewals.

In exceptional circumstances, the Department will consider granting diplomatic visas to other relatives who have an established history of dependence on the officer for physical or psychological reasons. The sending state’s foreign ministry should explain the basis and duration of dependency and, if appropriate, provide a medical certificate confirming the exceptional circumstances which are claimed. If approved, such dependants are admitted as private family members without diplomatic or consular privileges and immunities.

Family members who do not qualify for entry to Australia as members of an officer's household and are therefore not eligible for diplomatic visas may seek an appropriate visa (eg visitor, student) from the Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP) through the nearest Australian mission overseas. 

4.1.2 Military Attachés/Advisers

In regard to the appointment of Defence, Navy, Army and Air Attachés/Advisers, missions should formally submit details including a brief biography of nominees to Protocol Branch at least four weeks before the planned arrival date and await the Department’s formal acceptance before diplomatic visas are sought. Once approved, military staff and their dependants should obtain diplomatic visas in the normal way.

4.1.3 Diplomatic couriers and officers on short term missions

Diplomatic visas should be sought for diplomatic couriers visiting Australia on official business.

Protocol Branch will also consider requests for diplomatic visas for home-based officers on short term missions to Australia, for example, to cover during the temporary absence of an accredited officer of a diplomatic mission or consular post.

Representatives of international trade promotion offices, cultural institutes or tourism offices, teachers of foreign languages, religious instructors and community welfare workers are not eligible for diplomatic visas. Persons appointed to such positions should apply to DIBP for an appropriate visa to allow them to work in Australia.

Other foreign government officials who may be visiting Australia on business, for example, to attend an international conference or for bilateral consultations, should apply to DIBP for a business visa.

4.1.4 Australian citizens and permanent residents of Australia

The Australian Government will not agree to an Australian citizen or permanent resident being appointed as a diplomatic or consular representative unless there are exceptional circumstances. If consent is given, the privileges and immunities of the person concerned will be limited to those provided for in the appropriate Vienna Convention i.e. Article 38(1) of the VCDR and Article 71 of the VCCR. There would be no entitlement to financial privileges, and advice should be sought from the Australian Tax Office on personal liability to pay income tax and fringe benefits tax.

Australian permanent residents whose appointment to a diplomatic mission or consular post in Australia is approved by DFAT should be aware that grant of a diplomatic visa effectively cancels their permanent resident visa. If they wish to reacquire permanent residency after completing their diplomatic consular assignment, they would need to reapply to the Department of Immigration and Citizenship. There is no guarantee such an application would be successful.

Diplomatic visa holders who wish to apply to the Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP) for a new permanent residence visa or to reacquire Australian citizenship must first obtain DFAT concurrence (see Section 4.2.6). If permanent residence visas are granted by DIBP or Australian citizenship reinstated, the persons’ accreditation will be ceased and their entitlement to privileges and immunities will be affected.

4.2 Visas

All foreign officials posted to Australia and their dependants must hold valid visas. Diplomatic (subclass 995) visas are temporary entry visas, usually issued for an initial term of four years. They have a multiple entry facility, allowing the holder to enter and leave Australia without limitation until the “must not arrive after” date cited on the visa. Importantly, diplomatic visas are valid for the “duration of status” of the principal visa holder (the officer). This means that a diplomatic visa becomes invalid when an officer’s posting finishes, even if this occurs before the “must not arrive after” date cited on the visa.

If a diplomatic visa holder leaves Australia on completion of posting and wishes to return, s/he must apply to DIBP for a different visa appropriate to the purpose of travel.

4.2.1 Visa issue

When nominating officials to diplomatic missions and consular posts in Australia and requesting diplomatic visas for them, sending governments should provide:

Diplomatic visas will be evidenced by the nearest Australian mission that has a visa issuing capacity. The maximum stay in Australia will be ten years.

4.2.2 Duration of postings in Australia

Provision of diplomatic visas to diplomatic, administrative and technical and service staff and their consular equivalents is based on the assumption that all staff are rotated regularly and none are posted indefinitely. Most sending states post staff to Australia for three to four years. New diplomatic visas for officials and dependants wishing to remain in Australia beyond this notional posting period will be considered on a year by year basis. 

4.2.3 Visa renewal

Should a visa expire before the official's tour of duty is completed, a formal application for visa renewal should be made to Protocol Branch or to the Department's office in the relevant capital city. The application must be accompanied by valid passports and one passport size (approximately 35 x 45mm) photograph for the principal and each dependant. At least three working days is required to process correctly documented applications for new diplomatic visas.

If visas cannot be renewed before departure on unexpected travel, an application may be made at any of Australia's overseas missions. If necessary, Protocol Branch will notify an Australian mission en route to facilitate visa renewal or arrange for visa issue on arrival in Australia.

4.2.4 Birth of children in Australia

Children born to members of the Diplomatic or Consular Corps in Australia must obtain an Australian visa. The birth should be registered with the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages in the State or Territory concerned as soon as possible. Protocol Branch or the relevant State or Territory office must then be advised of the birth, so the department’s records can be updated and a visa issued to the child. The birth certificate and passport for the child will need to be presented for this purpose.

4.2.5 Departure of members of the household

Missions and posts are required to inform Protocol Branch when any person accepted as forming part of an officer’s household ceases to be eligible to remain, for example by leaving the household, exceeding the age limits for children (see 4.1.1), or completing studies.

4.2.6 Change of visa status

Diplomatic visa (995S visas) holders may seek to obtain other types of visas with the concurrence of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. If the holder of a diplomatic (995S) visa wishes to seek a change of status by applying for a student, spouse, or other non-diplomatic visa, the mission or post must formally notify Protocol Branch or the Department's relevant State or Territory office and seek confirmation that the Department has no objections before the person applies to DIBP. 

4.2.7 Visa status after completion of posting

Because diplomatic visas become invalid on an officer’s completion of posting, foreign missions must formally advise the Department of any officers or dependants who wish to remain in Australia after that time, for example, to complete studies. The Department can then make appropriate arrangements with DIBP to ensure that the persons concerned remain lawfully in Australia.

4.3  Accreditation

In order to formalise accreditation procedures, Protocol Branch requires written advice of the arrival of officers and dependants to take up their posting, and of their final departure from the mission to which they have been accredited. 

Honorary consuls, who are normally Australian citizens or permanent residents, should advise Protocol Branch or the relevant DFAT office of the dates on which they commence and complete their assignment.

The Department should be formally notified by the sending state’s foreign ministry if a sending state decides to transfer staff on a long-term basis between its missions within Australia. Transfers will be treated as new appointments, meaning that arrival and departure procedures must be completed in respect of each assignment.

Diplomatic status will be accorded to staff posted to Canberra who are performing diplomatic functions. Officials assigned to consular posts in Australia are accredited as members of the consular corps. Members of consular posts are not considered to be part of a resident diplomatic mission, and are therefore not eligible for diplomatic status. 

4.3.1 Notification of arrival

The following documentation must be sent to Protocol Branch or, in the case of career consular representatives, to the Department's office in the relevant State or Territory capital city:

Honorary consuls should notify the department of their commencement using Form E "Notification of Commencement of Honorary Consular Officer" (see Appendix 5).

4.3.2 Notification of departures

The following documentation should be completed and sent to Protocol Branch or to the Department's office in the relevant State or Territory capital city as close as possible to the completion of an officer’s posting:

4.3.3 Changes in accreditation

If a change of accreditation is required during an officer’s posting, for example from administrative and technical to diplomatic staff or from consular employee to consular officer, the reasons must be documented with formal advice provided from the sending state’s foreign ministry seeking approval for the officer’s status to be upgraded. The basis for the proposed change should be explained and the new duties specified.

4.4 Identity Cards

The Department issues identity cards to members of the Diplomatic and Consular Corps resident in Australia on the basis of information provided in the original nomination by the sending state and in the arrival documentation submitted by the mission or post concerned. 

The identity cards, which feature a scanned-in, tamper-proof photograph, represent official recognition of the status granted under the Vienna Conventions. Each identity card carries a brief general statement of the immunities to which the bearer is entitled. Cards issued to Australian citizens or permanent residents who have been accepted as diplomatic or consular representatives will reflect the limited privileges and immunities that may apply.

Loss of, or damage to, an identity card should be reported to the department as soon as possible so that a replacement card may be issued. Lost cards should also be reported to the police so that steps can be taken to ensure they are not used fraudulently.

4.4.1 Issue of identity cards

Identity cards distinguish the holder’s status in accordance with the following categories of accreditation:

As a courtesy, the department issues identity cards to the spouses of consular officers. As these persons are not entitled to claim immunity, their cards are intended for identification purposes only.

The department does not issue identity cards to the spouses of consular employees, service staff and honorary consuls.

The cards are colour coded as follows:

4.4.2 Expiry of identity cards

Identity cards are issued with an expiry date to match the “must not arrive after” date cited on the holder’s diplomatic visa. If an officer continues to be accredited beyond the expiry date of his/her identity card, the mission or post should forward the expired card, one passport size colour photograph and a request for renewal to Protocol Branch or to the department’s office in the relevant State or Territory. The expiry date of the new identity card will match the end date of the officer's new diplomatic visa.

At the end of an officer's posting in Australia, all identity cards must be returned to DFAT for cancellation.

4.5 The Diplomatic and Consular Lists

Electronic versions of the Diplomatic and Consular Lists are updated daily and published on DFAT’s website at Missions and posts are encouraged to access the lists on the website for current information. Word versions of the Lists can be downloaded from the department’s website. These are updated every three to four weeks. The Diplomatic and Consular Lists are also published annually in hard copy format.

The Diplomatic and Consular Lists include the names of accredited diplomats and consular officers respectively, and their spouses. Entries for non-resident missions normally include only the names of the Head of Mission and spouse.

For consistency, the following diplomatic designations are used in the Diplomatic List:

Military staff are shown as Adviser (for Commonwealth countries) or Attaché (for non-Commonwealth countries).

Generally, posts detailed in the Consular List are titled Consulate-General or Consulate. Individual designations include Consul-General, Deputy Consul-General, Consul, Vice-Consul, Honorary Consul-General and Honorary Consul. In exceptional circumstances, a post may be titled a Consular Agency and staff assigned to it, a Consular Agent. 

If an indication of an officer’s functions is required, this appears in parentheses after the rank, for example, Attaché (Administrative) or Consul (Commercial).

4.5.1 Updating the Diplomatic and Consular Lists

The Diplomatic and Consular Lists are produced from the protocol database using arrival and departure documentation submitted by missions and posts. 

Approximately eight weeks before publishing the new hard copy edition of the Diplomatic and Consular Lists, missions and posts will receive a printout of their entries in the format in which they will appear, and will be asked to check their accuracy. It is essential that missions and posts respond to this communication, even if no amendments to their entries are necessary.

4.5.2 Obtaining copies

The Department distributes a small number of copies of the Diplomatic List free of charge to diplomatic missions. Small numbers of the Consular List are distributed to diplomatic missions and consular posts.

4.6 Contact details

The Diplomatic and Consular Lists give telephone, fax and e-mail details for use by members of the public. Officers' private contact details are not published. However, the department requires private contact details in case of emergency. The provision of after hours and mobile telephone numbers is particularly important in this regard. Diplomatic missions and consular posts are requested to advise the department promptly of changes to officers' private addresses or telephone numbers.

4.6.1 Staff returns

To ensure its records are comprehensive and up to date, the department undertakes periodic reviews of the protocol database, known as the staff return. The staff return covers all staff associated with diplomatic missions and consular posts in Australia, including locally engaged staff and foreign domestic staff employed privately by officers under diplomatic or consular privilege. All missions and posts are required to respond to correspondence on the staff return, even if their staff details remain unchanged.