When Will Australia Open Borders for International Students?

Australia Oceania COVID-19 International Studies by Erudera News Oct 26, 2021

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International students enrolled at Australian universities, who remain stuck abroad for some 19 months now due to the COVID-19 pandemic, are finally getting more hopeful for their return, following the latest announcement of the government to start allowing international students to enter Australia by December 2021.

Students have been eager to return to their universities and in-person learning since March 20 last year, when the country decided to close its borders to all foreign nationals, Erudera.com reports.

According to the Department of Home Affairs, Australia’s state and territory governments, in consultation with the Australian government and education institutions, are working on International Student Arrival Plans to allow a number of students to return to the country until current travel restrictions are lifted.

250 Students to Return to New South Wales From Early December

After more than 18 months of studying online, the first group of international students is expected to return to New South Wales in December this year.

Under the plan, a limited number of 250 international students enrolled at education institutions in New South Wales will return to the state each fortnight, starting from early December 2021.

Students who return to Australia should be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 with a Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) recognized vaccine before entering Sydney.

“In partnership with industry, we are continuing with our plans to return up to 500 students to the state by the end of the year and will provide any update as soon as possible,” the NSW government noted.

International students are expected to quarantine in purpose-built student accommodation in Sydney and comply with the same health and quarantine measures that the government has set for the returning Australians.

Costs for returning to NSW will be covered by participating education providers and the returning students. The latter will be able to continue on-campus learning with COVID-19 safe arrangements.

On September 13, 2021, more than 57,289 enrolled students were stranded abroad, being unable to return to NSW to pursue their studies.  

Also, the Australian Capital Territory government has announced recently that it will welcome the return of international students to the state for the 2022 academic year. It further said that if the latter are vaccinated with any TGA vaccine, they will not be required to quarantine but to follow vaccination and testing requirements after landing in Australia. 

Similarly, from January next year, international students who are fully vaccinated will also be able to return to Queensland. The state will allow 250 international students to return each fortnight, prioritizing students studying in medicine or in the health field. 

Education Department: More Students Could Return With Small Phased Programs in 2022

The Australian Department of Education, Skills, and Employment noted that the number of international students returning to Australia will increase in 2022. The latter are expected to return through small phased programs. 

A spokesperson for the department said that all future decisions would be taken based on the recommendation of expert health advice and in alignment with all Government directives.

A report issued by the Mitchell Institute for Education and Health Policy at Victoria University identified 210,000 fewer international students in Australia; nevertheless, the Department of Education reported only 69,427 fewer enrolments (YTD July 2019 compared to YTD 2021).

The Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said that Australian citizens and permanent residents stranded abroad would be the first to return to the country, and then international students along with skilled migrants.

At the same time, Trade Minister Dan Tehan said he hopes that international students, migrant workers, and tourists will also be able to return to the country before the end of this year. However, he also emphasized that Australia’s priority remains to return Australians.

Some Students Worry About Returning Costs, Others Just Want Their Belongings Back

Although the majority of students have been eager to return to Australia, constantly calling on the government and Prime Minister to open borders for international students, some of them are now worried about the cost of return. Students have also expressed concerns about the government prioritizing students whose studies are focused on medicine and engineering.

Australia has affected its education reputation among international students as some of them have claimed they are considering other study destinations and now they just want their belongings back.

According to estimates, Australia has lost more than 100,000 international students during the past financial year.

The Managing Director of the Study Group Australia, Alex Chevrolle, said that Australia could lose more international students in the upcoming academic year if it focuses only on the contribution they make to the country’s economy  

“Much of the education sector’s focus on international students has been short term and dollar focused, but their contribution is far richer and broader. They are talented, future Australians making a big human contribution as part of our community,” Chevrolle had said.

Despite the government stating that Australia’s decision to close borders has been essential to curb the spread of the virus, leaders were criticized in this regard.

Generation Network Scholar in Education at the University of Melbourne, Andrew Deuchar, said that Australia lacked the political will to return international students. According to him, the government should have allowed entering the country at least students who are enrolled in a course at a recognized provider, who are fully vaccinated and able to complete two weeks of quarantine.

Approximately 51,000 new and returning international students arrived in Australia in October 2019. This number decreased by 99.7 percent in October 2020.

International students contributed to the Australian economy more than A$40 billion annually before the pandemic erupted.

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