Morrison’s opening of the door to international students leaves many industry members blinded and scrambling to catch up

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Fully immunized international students from around the world will be allowed in Australia from next week, without the need to apply for a travel exemption. Prime Minister Scott Morrison made the announcement yesterday.

Although academic bodies such as Universities Australia and the Group of Eight Welcomed the announcement, sources in the higher education sector said they were caught off guard and are now scrambling to update their plans.

Confused States

Before the Prime Minister’s announcement, only a small number of students were able to apply for a travel exemption to enter the country. They included Australian government-funded research students, medical, dental, nursing or paramedical students who would undertake internships, and high school students in grades 11 and 12.

This announcement is a major change from less than a month ago, when it was still unclear how and when the over 145,000 international student visa holders would be able to enter Australia.



Read more: Why the international education crisis will persist long after students return to Australia


On October 15, the Premier of New South Wales Dominic Perrottet announced quarantine restrictions would be removed from November 1 for all fully vaccinated international arrivals to the state. But the the prime minister slammed the brakes on NSW’s plan to open up to the world, saying:

The Federal Government does not open it to anyone other than Australian residents, citizens and their immediate families.

Such confusion puts States in a difficult position. Ahead of Morrison’s announcement yesterday, NSW and Victoria – the states with the most international students – have both developed pilot programs to return international students. The NSW plan was supposed to allow up to 250 international students studying with public education providers to return every fortnight from the beginning of December 2021. This figure would increase to 500 students per fortnight by the end of the year.

Victoria’s proposal would initially allow 120 students currently enrolled and nominated by universities to enter the state each week. The numbers would be expanded to more students and other providers over time.

Universities in both states were working frantically to organize details such as the priority of selected students for programs and charter flights. The Commonwealth’s removal of restrictions on international travel now appears to have replaced these pilot plans.



Read more: The government continues to put aside plans to repatriate international students to Australia. He owes them an explanation


This will likely mean that the caps of 250 per fortnight in NSW and 120 per week for Victoria will no longer be in place.

The only aspects of the pilot programs in NSW and Victoria likely to remain could be the charter flights already organized. This will slightly ease the burden on commercial airlines, which may need more time to ensure capacity.

The University of Sydney updated their info saying:

The […] The pilot program will continue as planned, with the University providing an accompanied return program for current students who are eligible and choose to participate. The first international student charter flight is scheduled to arrive on December 6, 2021. Eligible students will be contacted directly as further flights are announced.

However, most state universities have yet to update their plans.

Different rules for different states

NSW and Victoria already had removed their quarantine requirements for arrivals fully vaccinated. But international students entering other states can still face a series of restrictions. In the case of Queensland this includes payment for a mandatory two-week stay in an isolated quarantine facility.

Entering Western Australia may be quite impossible, given that the state plans to ease border controls once a target of 90% vaccination in two doses is reached.

It is also important to note that the pilot programs for international students were limited to universities, where only about half of all international students`are registered. The latest announcement now means that students of other types of international education, such as vocational education and training and English classes, can start arriving.

However, the significance of the announcement for students at international schools is unclear, as those under the age of 18 are less likely to be vaccinated.

As part of the new arrangements that will begin on December 1 travelers must:

  • leave their country of origin
  • be fully vaccinated with a full dose of a vaccine approved or recognized by the TGA
  • hold a valid Australian visa
  • provide proof of their vaccination status
  • submit a negative COVID-19 PCR test performed within three days of departure.

Eligible visa holders include qualified and student cohorts, as well as humanitarian, worker-holidaymaker and temporary family visa holders.



Read more: As international student return hopes fade, border closures could cost $ 20 billion a year in 2022 – half the industry’s value


Either way, students are more likely to be interested in coming early next year. But international higher education students might be interested in coming to work here soon over the summer, given Australia’s skills shortages in industries that commonly employ them, such as hospitality.

The big question now is how long it will take airlines to reach full capacity. In the pre-COVID era, it would have been a walk in the park. There was 21.3 million international arrivals in Australia in 2019, around 1.8 million inbound passengers per month.

In October, the Estimated International Air Transport Association International air travel is only 40% of pre-COVID levels in 2021. It may take a long time to reach pre-COVID levels again, but at least we’re on the right track.



Read more: As international students start to return, the new year will be a critical time



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