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Djokovic faces possible deportation after Australia again revokes his visa

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Australia's immigration minister has revoked tennis star Novak Djokovic's visa again. It was just a few days ago that a judge overruled Australian border officials and allowed Djokovic to stay. You remember, this is all because Djokovic refuses to get the COVID vaccine, which Australia says everyone has to have if they want to come in the country. Djokovic, the No. 1 ranked player in men's tennis, was supposed to compete in the Australian Open, which starts Monday. It's all up in the air again. And he now faces possible deportation. Earlier, I talked with journalist Elizabeth Kulas. And I asked her first how the immigration minister explained his decision to revoke the visa.

ELIZABETH KULAS: Yeah. This decision came in around 6 p.m. this evening. I think almost everybody in Australia thought it wasn't going to happen during this work week. And they dropped it just after 6 p.m. And in a statement, the minister said he was cancelling the visa on health and good order grounds, and on the basis that it was in the public interest. He said he'd taken on board all kinds of information that had been provided to him by the department of home affairs, border force, who had initially detained Djokovic, and Djokovic and his team as well. And this likely relates to the fact that in the last few days, it surfaced that Djokovic's original visa application made to enter the country contained some false information, specifically a claim that he hadn't travelled internationally in the last two weeks leading up to his arrival into Australia. And social media posts showed that he'd been in Spain.

MARTIN: So we've got the Australian Open starting Monday.

KULAS: Yes.

MARTIN: Is Djokovic going to play?

KULAS: At this point, no. But as we speak, a directions hearing is taking place right now. It's just after 9 p.m. on a Friday night. But that's happening as we speak. We're not likely to get a resolution on this tonight, but probably get some very clear indications of next steps. In the days leading up to today's announcement, Djokovic's team had said he would fight it if the minister had stepped in. So it looks like it will continue as a legal situation over the weekend. But in the meantime, Djokovic has been asked to present for an interview with immigration officials tomorrow.

MARTIN: Oh, my gosh - high drama. So Australia has one of the highest vaccination rates in the world, right? Ninety-two percent of people over the age of 16 are fully vaccinated.

KULAS: Correct.

MARTIN: How are people there talking about this case?

KULAS: It's quite hard to get a public reading on this. I think it's - the prime minister put out a statement this afternoon saying Australians had made sacrifices during the pandemic, and that they could rightly expect that the result of that would be that those sacrifices were protected. I think there is a segment of the population that's following that line. I think there's also a large group of people who think, let's put this to the side for now and play on. So it is hard to tell. But Djokovic will, it looks like, appeal the decision and see if he can either get a bridging visa and remain to play on Monday.

MARTIN: Yeah. Real quick, though - I mean, how - what does it say about any consensus over vaccines that, first, he's got the visa. Then it's revoked. Then it's, you know, reinstated. There's no political unity on this.

KULAS: Well, look; I think the vaccine mandates are broadly supported by the Australian public. I think the confusion about a vaccine exemption clearly needs to be much, much tighter and consistent. And everybody's learned that through this. But I think the fact that he's unvaccinated and doesn't want to serve quarantine hasn't been a very popular decision with the Australian public.

MARTIN: Elizabeth Kulas, a reporter talking to us from Melbourne. She's been covering this. Thank you.

KULAS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.