Since March 2020, Australia has had some of the most rigid border restrictions in the world. Even within the country, borders between states had been closed for months due to the alarming and constant rising of COVID-19 cases.
Given these challenges, international students have found it difficult to pursue and continue their studies in Australia. Most of these students had to put their academic plans on hold due to the strict border rules implemented since the beginning of the pandemic. Other students had to change their plans altogether.
After 18 months of careful planning, the governments of Australia and New South Wales have approved a major student return pilot that will allow a maximum of 250 international students, every fortnight, to safely return to New South Wales to continue their studies. The NSW pilot is the second government-approved pilot, following a similar pilot effort in South Australia approved in June 2021.
The NSW pilot program is ready to welcome the first batch of international students in December 2021. It is important to note that students are eligible for the program only if they are:
- returning students
- invited by their participating higher education institutions
- fully vaccinated against COVID-19 with a vaccine approved by Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), which are currently limited to Pfizer BioNTech, AstraZeneca, Moderna, and Janssen.
All returning international students will be required to quarantine in purpose-built student accommodations in Sydney to minimise the risk of COVID-19 transmission. They are also required to adhere to all health and quarantine requirements established by the Australian health authorities.
The program is limited to a list of 11 participating public universities, including the University of Sydney, UNSW Sydney, Macquarie University, the University of Technology Sydney and several private providers.
Despite the strict parameters, New South Wales’ returning student pilot will be a massive step in helping thousands of returning international students pursue their academic and future career goals. Before the pandemic, 38% of Australia’s international students were studying in NSW. Now, over 57,000 enrolled international students in NSW are currently outside of Australia, unable to continue their studies due to the travel ban. The pilot seeks to help these students slowly and safely get back on track in reaching their dreams as they resume their studies in the state.
Victoria is also looking to follow this pilot effort, as the state has already submitted plans to the federal government to allow 120 international students to return per week. If approved, international students can start traveling to Victoria before 2022.
Australia continues its support and commitment to providing high-quality education to international students across the globe. Apart from providing opportunities to students, these international education programs also enrich local communities through the positive contributions of the international students in the places they study, work and live.
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