By Kyla Marie Nigos
More than a year since governments worldwide conducted repatriation programs through special flights, the federal government has given approval of South Australia’s proposal for a pilot program to welcome the return of international students.
Both the Australian state and international borders have been closed since the COVID-19 pandemic surged in March 2020. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the international education sector is the fourth of largest export in Australia. The population of international students in Australia, numbering up to more than 500,000, and contributes $37.4 billion annually to the Australian economy. 40% of the sector’s annual student revenue helps to meet shortages in skilled workers and professionals, providing 250,000 jobs.
South Australia approved for pilot program
On 18 June, South Australian Premier Steven Marshall welcomed the federal government’s approval of SA’s proposed pilot program, making it the second state to be granted the return of international students.
CDU was the first university in Australia to allow return of international students approved by the NT and federal governments. 63 students returned to Charles Darwin University in the Northern Territory in November last year which contained a mix of new and continuing CDU from China, Hong Kong, Japan, Vietnam, and Indonesia.
The two other pilot programs proposed by Adelaide and Canberra were previously put on hold following the second wave of pandemic in the country last year.
Reduced arrivals due to recent lockdowns
With the recent lockdowns, especially the latest outbreak across in Australia, the widespread entry of international students and travelers is still on hold. The fast spread of the new Delta variant of the virus has already put seven capital cities in hard lockdown across Australia. National Cabinet on Friday afternoon announced the temporary reduction of international passenger arrival caps by 50 per cent to prioritise returning Australians and to maintain capacity of available quarantine facilities. Guidelines starting 12.01am Wednesday, 14 July until 31 August is subject to a review by National Cabinet before the end of August.
Pilot program for students in New South Wales delayed
Moreover, commencement of the pilot plan of New South Wales, the biggest study destination in Australia, which was also expected to be approved, now delayed due to the current lockdown restrictions. However, the latest figures show more than 34,000 Australians remain locked out of the country’s borders. 10,400 Australians are in India, where an average of 46,979 daily COVID-19 cases was reported for the last week of June 2021.
Melbourne to welcome international students from December
Meanwhile, in Melbourne, a village-style quarantine facility that can accommodate a 500 people located in Mickleham is slated to be up and running by December. The government received a handful of comments from the public after Scott Morrison announced that the newly-built facility would also accommodate international students to help bolster the Victorian economy. For example, a comment in the Herald Sun’s article “International students to return by Christmas” on June 25, states “Australian Citizens still can’t get home, and you’re building a facility to bring in foreign students.”
The state government, represented by NSW Treasurer Dominic Perrottet, stated “International education is our second-most valuable export and we need to do what we can to help students return and revive this sector as quickly as possible.” Combined impact of closing Australia’s long-term international connectivity, is an estimated $1.5 billion per month for the state. Despite the continued threat of the virus, Perrottet has reiterated returning students will follow the same quarantine protocols as other returning international travelers.
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