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Budget 2020: When will Australia re-open its borders?

Herd Immunity makes it hard for infectious disease to spread Source: AAP

Australia’s borders will remain closed until late 2021, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has said in his post-budget speech at the National Press Club on Wednesday.

International tourists and students will have to wait almost a year as Australia is unlikely to re-open its international borders until the latter part of 2021.  


Highlights:

  • International students, permanent migrants to gradually return in the latter part of 2020-21
  • Net Overseas Migration (NOM) to fall to -72,000 persons by the end of 2020-21
  • 2020-21 migration program to prioritise onshore applicants

The government assumes borders are likely to re-open when a population-wide Australian COVID-19 vaccination program will be in place by late 2021.

On Wednesday, in his post-budget speech at the National Press Club of Australia, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said, “International travel including both tourists and international students is assumed to remain largely closed off until late next year and then gradually return over time. And a vaccine, to be available around the end of 2021 is one of the assumptions in the budget.”

Australia is though likely to see international travellers being allowed from COVID-safe countries such as New Zealand, Singapore and Japan prior to borders re-opening for everyone.

Pointing out the trans-Tasman travel bubble initiated with New Zealand, starting this month, PM Scott Morrison during the online multicultural briefing on Wednesday morning said his government was working on working out a similar deal with Singapore.

“New Zealand's COVID record is a very, very strong on the health side of things, and that will be our first step in that direction.

“But I have had discussions with President Moon and former Prime Minister Abe about how Australia might be able to move forward together with other countries. I mean, other countries where this is possible. Countries like Singapore, where it could be done as we move into next year. And seek to try and normalise as best we can, student entries into Australia for the start of next year's university year, we're still working on that. But the reality is we must be very careful."

He though said Australia won't be rushing to reopen its borders. 

“So, look, I won't say we'll be rushing here, we'll be proceeding carefully. The impacts of further waves of COVID coming through our country would be devastating.

“We've seen what that has meant in Melbourne. We don't want to see that happen again and so we will be cautious, but we are open to those opportunities and I am working with other leaders around the world to see what can be achieved.

“Technology will be a key factor in this, testing technologies, in particular, moving to alternative types of quarantine arrangements, trialling those and making sure that we can have confidence about them, and ensuring we get even more enhanced tracing capabilities in Australia to deal with any potential outbreaks which may come from a relaxation of those arrangements but I don't anticipate them happening anytime soon, but New Zealand step will be the first one and then we'll go from there," he added.

Net Overseas Migration to fall massively

‘Inbound and outbound international travel is expected to remain low through the latter part of 2021, after which a gradual recovery in international tourism is also assumed to occur.

‘Net overseas migration (NOM) is significantly affected by international travel restrictions and weaker labour markets domestically and globally. It is assumed to fall from around 154,000 persons in 2019-20 to be around -72,000 persons by the end of 2020-21, before gradually increasing to around 201,000 persons in 2023-24.’

Net overseas migration takes into account how many people enter Australia and stay for more than 12 months, compared to how many people leave the country for the same period.

Government’s plan in the best case scenario and worst-case scenario

Better health outcomes in some of Australia’s major trading partners and the successful implementation of international student pilots could allow an earlier return of international students in 2021.

Alternatively, persistent transmissions of the virus globally could delay the opening of international borders and the return of international tourism and students.

With uncertainty looming large, the Treasury has drawn out a best-case and a worst scenario of border closures.

The upside scenario assumes an earlier return of international students in larger numbers from 1 July 2021, with COVID-19 under control and vaccine rolled out at the same time.

Under the downside scenario, it is assumed that rolling outbreaks will necessitate reimposition of severe containment measures, thus delaying the return of international tourists and students.

Based on these assumptions (borders will remain closed to international visitors for the time being), Tourism Australia has been allocated $231.6 million for 2020-21 to ramp up domestic marketing activities to encourage Australians to travel again.

Trade, Tourism and Investment Minister, Simon Birmingham, said, “As we shift to the next phase of our tourism recovery plan, new Budget measures will further support the sector and jobs by stimulating domestic visitation to our tourism regions and encouraging domestic business travel.” 

What does it mean for those who want to migrate to Australia?

Melbourne-based registered migration agent Rohit Mohan says offshore migrants, barring partner visa applicants, will be hit hard. 

"The budget has announced onshore applicants will get a priority. It is going to be a difficult year for offshore applicants. They will take a hit," Mr Mohan said.

However, he points out there is good news for temporary visa holders, especially tourist visa holders and those students who have an Australian visa but have not been able to travel to Australia. 

"The government has announced that they will offer Visa Application Charge (VAC) refunds, waivers or visa extensions to visa holders who have been unable to travel to Australia due to COVID-19. This includes waiving the VAC for visitors to boost tourism once the borders re-open. At least they won't have to pay for their visa," Mr Mohan said.  

People in Australia must stay at least 1.5 metres away from others. Check your jurisdiction's restrictions on gathering limits.

If you are experiencing cold or flu symptoms, stay home and arrange a test by calling your doctor or contact the Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080.

News and information is available in 63 languages at https://sbs.com.au/coronavirus

Please check the relevant guidelines for your state or territory: NSW, VictoriaQueenslandWestern AustraliaSouth AustraliaNorthern TerritoryACTTasmania

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