Australia to remain closed to nearly all but international students until next year

PHOTO: The arrivals section of the international terminal of Sydney's Kingsford Smith International Airport

Australia’s trade minister said yesterday that the country is unlikely to reopen its borders to international arrivals until some time in 2021, but will look to relax entry rules for international students and other long-term visitors. The country has been largely successful in containing the spread of Covid-19, success which it attributes to curbs on international travel and tough social distancing rules.

Simon Birmingham told the national press club that a quarantine rule for returning citizens could also be applied to international students and other visitors who plan extended stays.

“We can simply work through the 14 day quarantine periods that have worked so well in terms of returning Australians to this country safely.”

The return of international students will be a boost for cash-strapped universities facing immense financial losses with the borders closed, as international education is Australia’s fourth-largest foreign exchange earner, bringing in 38 billion Australian dollars (US$26.14 billion) annually.

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Australia’s had more than 7,300 cases of Covid-19 and 102 deaths. It recorded its biggest daily rise in new infections in more than a month yesterday, most in Victoria, the second most populous of Australia’s 6 states. Victoria reported 21 new cases overnight, of which 15 are returned travellers in quarantine, taking the total tally for the day to 22 cases, with some states yet to report their data.

2 Australian universities have announced plans to plan to hire a plane to fly in hundreds of foreign students stranded in the middle of their studies by border closures. University of Canberra and The Australian National University, both based in the nation’s capital, say they’ll hire a plane to carry 350 students into the country in July so that they can complete quarantine and return to class.

The plan has the approval of the territory’s government, but still needs a sign-off from the federal government. The federal government closed national borders in March to prevent the spread and importation of the coronavirus.

“We are pulling out all stops to welcome back our continuing international students to campus, and to the vibrant Canberra community, as soon and as safely as possible.”

The universities did not say from which country the flight would depart. A spokeswoman said the universities may arrange a flight from a regional travel hub so students from various countries can get on board. The “pilot program,” as the universities call it, would be for older foreign students who have previously studied in Canberra and whose work was interrupted by the abrupt border closure.

Foreign students have become a major revenue source for Australian universities; since the border closures were enacted, universities have said they might lose 16 billion Australian dollars in revenue by 2023 due to foreign students being shut out.


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