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Skilled migrants and international students to return to Australia after citizens and permanent residents

Australia signals return of international students and skilled migrants when 80% double-dose target met. Source: Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has flagged the possible reopening of the international border by the end of this year. He said top priority would be given to Australian citizens and permanent residents keen to return home, followed by skilled migrants and international students.

Giving hope to all those stranded offshore, the prime minister on Thursday said the government will prioritise the return of three key cohorts once the international travel ban is lifted later this year.


  • Australia to prioritise return of citizens, permanent residents, followed by skilled migrants and international students
  • Visitors will not be allowed to enter Australia until next year, says PM Scott Morrison
  • Fully vaccinated citizens, permanent residents may be allowed to travel and return to states that have reached 80 per cent double dose milestone

Mr Morrison said Australian citizens and permanent residents registered with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) and vaccinated would be given priority.

“Having a vaccinated population particularly when we hit 80 per cent that means Australia will be able to open up, begin opening up to international travel again and there are three priorities; the first one is, of course, for Australians around the world to be able to come home if they are vaccinated and not be subject to any caps at our airports,” he said during a virtual press conference with the Indian media today. 

Prime Minister Scott Morrison during an online press briefing with the Indian media.

The prime minister said India remains the “biggest area of activity” when it comes to getting Australians home.

Nearly 26,500 Australians stuck in India have made their way home since the borders were shut in March 2020, while more than 10,000 remain stranded in the South Asian nation. 

Gradual return of skilled migrants and international students, but no visitors until 2022

Mr Morrison said once Australians make their way home, the government would allow a gradual return of skilled migrants followed by international students.

He, however, ruled out any possibility of tourists travelling to the country this year.

“I think we will have to work through the priorities of Australian residents and citizens, skilled migrants and students. I think they are our priorities, and then next year, I think we will be able to move to that (tourists returning). I hope we can, but we have just got to take this one step at a time.”

Speaking about India specifically, the prime minister said: “The vaccination rates in India are pretty encouraging and they have a got a very, very good vaccine which is also great, so I think that gives us a lot of opportunities going into next year.”

For Raghubir Singh, one of the hundreds of skilled migrants stranded in India, the news is just one of many “hopeful promises” the Australian government has made over the past 18 months.

Temp visa holder
Raghubir Singh is a temporary visa holder who remains stranded in India.
Supplied by Raghubir Singh

The 31-year-old temporary graduate visa holder, who remains stuck in Haryana, said the specifics of the reopening plan are still up in the air.

“The plan outlines a gradual return of skilled migrants to the country in phases and may only start with intake from a select few countries. However, we still don’t know if India would be on that list even though we are coping well with the pandemic,” Mr Singh said.

He added that the government must announce some visa concessions, particularly for temporary graduates, most of whom have had their visa expire and have no pathway to return.

Outward travel

Mr Morrison said the government was getting its systems ready to allow citizens and residents to leave the country and return to states which have reached the 80 per cent double dose vaccination milestone.

He said New South Wales is likely to be the first cab off the rank to allow citizens and residents to fly overseas.

“My intention is for Australian citizens, residents who are vaccinated in a state that has gone into Phase C - 80% vaccination - so you will be able to travel to India and return. I hope to see that this year,” he said.

Experts call for Australia to open-up

Professor Rajesh Chandy, the academic director at the London Business School’s Wheeler Institute for Business and Development, said Australia – like all globally connected societies - cannot seal its borders endlessly.

Rajesh Chandy
Professor Rajesh Chandy, Academic Director, Wheeler Institute for Business and Development.
Supplied by Christopher Moseley

“It is becoming increasingly clear that societies around the world will have to coexist with COVID-19.

“Now that we know how incredibly effective vaccines can be in helping us coexist with COVID-19, it stands to reason that the authorities should carefully resume Australia’s long-standing connections to the world,” Professor Chandy said.

Michael Maher is the CEO and co-founder of e-wallet and electronic passport platform OnePassport, which digitises contact tracing to facilitate visitor mobility.

He said Australia needs to at least begin opening up.

“The world is a big place, so we need to begin opening up but also understand that not all countries are in the same position from a COVID perspective. Not only vaccination rates but also potential for fraud in COVID-19 related data such as evidence of COVID vaccinations or COVID negative test results,” Mr Maher said.

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