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Will international students from India be allowed to return as part of South Australia’s pilot program?

Will international students be returning to Australia this year? (Representational image). Source: Getty Images/martin-dm

South Australia government stands firm on its decision to welcome back international students next month, as part of Australia’s first such pilot program despite criticism from the Opposition, as well as Australian citizens and permanent residents stranded offshore.

At least 300 international students will be flown into Adelaide from Singapore next month, under the national pilot plan to help the state's $1.9 billion international education industry get back on its feet.

Like all repatriated Australians, the shortlisted students will be subject to mandatory quarantine in the state's medi-hotel facilities for two weeks and will be tested for coronavirus on days one and 12.


  • South Australia government says it is yet to decide where the students will come from
  • After China, India is among the biggest source of international students for SA 
  • Nearly 6,600 of Australia's international students are stuck in India due to the coronavirus-border closure

An SA government spokesperson told SBS Punjabi that the following factors will be taken into consideration while shortlisting the students:

- “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.”

However, it is not clear which source countries will these shortlisted students come from.

South Australian Premier Steven Marshall
South Australian Premier Steven Marshall

Is India on the list?

Outside of China, India is the next biggest source of overseas students for South Australia.

Nearly 7,000 of the country's international students are currently stranded in India due to the coronavirus-prompted border closure, but it's not clear how many of them study in educational institutions based in SA. 

On questioned which countries would be included in the list, the SA government spokesperson said the “exact final numbers and country of origin of students are yet to be finalised.”

“We are working with the universities to make sure the pilot program is open to students from a diverse range of countries,” said the spokesperson.

With more than 2.7 million confirmed cases, India has the third-largest COVID-19 caseload in the world, after the US and Brazil.

Talking about the prospects of the return of Indian international students, Punjab-based education consultant Navjot Singh said their fate largely rides on the success of the initial pilot plan. 

"India is a crucial market for Australia, but it cannot be ignored that it is currently a high-risk zone as far as the coronavirus outbreak is concerned.

"However, we suspect that while Indian students may not return in the initial flights, they will be factored in eventually in the subsequent flights, as we are a large source of student intake for many states, including SA," he said.

Reiterating the state’s position on the modalities of the plan, Premier Steven Marshall today said that "no decisions have been made" about where the students will come from.

“The final planning is being done at the moment,” he added.

This comes a day after Mr Marshall defended the state’s position to launch the pilot plan.

“We would never push ahead with something without health’s big tick of approval and that’s precisely what we’ve got,” said the Premier.

But despite his assurances, the plan has caught the ire of the state’s opposition which has questioned the government’s “priorities and its inability” to answer “simple questions” about the specifics of the plan.

“The Government has been unable to answer simple questions about how many students they are intending on bringing in total and which apparently ‘low risk’ countries would be included,” Chris Picton, Shadow Minister for Health and Wellbeing said in a statement to SBS Punjabi.

The Labor health spokesman also criticised the Marshall government’s decision to ease border restrictions for international students at a time when South Australians are stranded overseas, “unable to get help.”

“Such as a constituent who contacted me just yesterday concerned about his wife stranded in Singapore and has been bumped off several international flights because there was not enough capacity to return to Australia.

“These people are questioning whether the accommodation of these international students is taking priority over their loved ones’ return,” said Mr Picton.

What about the other states?

Northern Territory, Western Australia and Queensland:

The Northern Territory government has also reportedly expressed its interest to establish a similar secure corridor to facilitate the return of its share of foreign students.

Phil Honeywood, the chief executive of the International Education Association of Australia said the pilots are crucial and would pave the way for the return of a large number of students in times to come.

“For small population states such as SA and NT, these secure corridors are providing them with a first-mover advantage compared to the larger states. Clearly, if they can prove that all health-related issues can be controlled then this will lead to a large number of students returning to these jurisdictions,” he said.

He added that overseas students studying in WA and QLD may not be able to return for some time because of the upcoming state elections.

“In the meantime, because of state elections in Queensland and Western Australia, unfortunately, those markets appear to be closed for some time to come,” said Mr Honeywood.

Indian students seek economic aid to tide through the times of coronavirus.
International students will not be returning to Canberra this year.

Australian Capital Territory:

International students will not be returning to universities in Canberra this year.

The Australian National University and the University of Canberra said in a joint statement that “It is unlikely that our international pilot will be able to happen this year, but we will keep working to support our students’ educational experience.”

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