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Australia set to open borders to international students, other visa holders may have to wait longer

Quarantine capacity could delay Australia’s ability to bring international students to Australia soon. Source: Getty Images

After months of speculation around the return of international students, a pilot program would see a small number of overseas students returning to South Australia next month.

Less than 60 international students arrived in Australia in June, a dramatic drop as compared to the approximately 46,000 that travelled into the country on student visas during the same period last year, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics data released on Friday.

But this is poised to change next month, as South Australia is preparing to bring back the first batch of the state’s nearly 7,000 students stranded offshore, to bring the education sector back on its feet, which has suffered a major financial setback.


  • International students set to return to Australia in early September
  • South Australia to welcome 300 international students under the pilot program 
  • Australian international borders to remain closed for all other temporary visa holders

Here's how students will be shortlisted:

Announcing the decision on Sunday, Premier Steven Marshall said the state’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak has paved the way for SA to become the first jurisdiction to welcome back its share of international students.

“South Australia’s handling of COVID-19 has put us in the ideal position to be a first-mover in bringing back international students,” said Mr Stevens.

Providing further insight into the pilot, a state government spokesperson told SBS Punjabi that students are keen to return to South Australia to continue their studies, especially where access to academic resources impacts on receiving their qualifications. 

The spokesperson added that besides the course requirements and study streams, a number of other factors are being taken into consideration while preparing a list of students who will be allowed to return.

"A number of factors are being taken into consideration in terms of determining the shortlist, including course requirements and study streams where face to face and practical learning or placements are paramount to the completion of the specific degree; where South Australia’s international students were located when the borders closed, and the airline partner’s approved ports of departure," said the spokesperson.

Singapore to Adelaide:

Simon Birmingham
Federal Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment Simon Birmingham

As part of the plan, a batch of 300 final year students from South East Asia will board a flight from Singapore to Adelaide in early September, which would serve as a test run for similar programs across the country.

Federal Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment Simon Birmingham on Sunday said that the SA government’s “careful pilot project” meets the strict safety and health parameters has been green-lighted at the “highest level.”

"All of the quarantine requirements, all of the testing requirements, all of those factors are built-in with this having been approved at the highest level — state and federal, by health authorities — to make sure that everyone can have confidence this is not going to pose any risk in terms of COVID transmission,” said Mr Birmingham.

The shortlisted students will be subject to strict quarantine at the state’s medi-hotel facilities, an arrangement that will reportedly be paid for by the universities or students themselves.

International students
Karamveer Singh

The SA government has told SBS Punjabi that the state is working with the universities to ensure the pilot is open to students from a range of different countries. 

We are working with the universities to make sure the pilot program is open to students from a diverse range of countries. The exact final numbers and country of origin of students are yet to be finalised- SA government spokesperson

While the final list is being prepared, it is understood that students from China, Hong Kong and Japan could be allowed to return as part of the pilot, leaving out other key markets including India and Nepal.

Stranded in north India, Karamveer Singh, who is six months away from completing his diploma in IT from an Adelaide-based educational institute says the news of the pilot has evoked mixed reactions amid students stuck in India as they fear they may not be able to return this year.

“I came to India to attend a family function and have been stuck here with no hope of returning. While the pilot sounds like a good start, I think students like me who are stuck in India have a slim chance to be included even in future flights because of a higher number of coronavirus cases,” said the 22-year-old.

When will other states bring back international students?

The launch of the pilot is set to increase pressure on other states, particularly, the Australian Capital Territory and Queensland – the two states that were prepared to launch similar pilots which were never initiated due to the second wave of coronavirus infections in Victoria.

Click here for more:

NSW and Victoria:

NSW and Victoria - the two states which are home to the largest cohort of international students have both been working on proposals to facilitate the return of foreign students, but those were thrown into doubt by the recent COVID-19 trajectory in the two jurisdictions.

international students
Australia prepares to open borders to international students in a "phased manner" (Representational image.)
Getty Images

Clearing its stand, Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews on Friday told SBS Punjabi that while international students are important to the state’s economy and its relationship with other countries, the state cannot allow their return until it would be safe to do so.

“I think we can resume some international education at the appropriate time, but it needs to be done carefully and gradually, but again that’s captive to the second wave also. Until we have that under control, we simply won’t be able to have people come in here,” he said.

When will the borders open to other temporary visa holders?

On being questioned when the borders will open for visa holders other than the international students, Senator Birmingham said the travel bans have been essential to Australia’s response against the pandemic and would remain in their current form until it would be safe to lift them.

“This cautious approach to how we manage our borders and who comes and goes and how they come and go has been an essential part of protecting Australia from COVID-19 and is going to remain very important well into the future,” he said.

Refusing to commit to a time-frame, Mr Birmingham added that the government cannot provide "random timelines" in terms of advice as to when the borders might reopen.

“They will reopen when the health advice gives us sufficient confidence together with all the precautions, we are putting in place that they can safely reopen,” he added.

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