Hundreds of vaccinated international students will be returning to Australia by the end of the year after announcing an industry-funded pilot plan on Friday.
The first phase of the pilot is expected to bring 500 international students back to the state on chartered flights by December, paid for by the students themselves.
Students will return in a staggered fashion and quarantine at a purpose-built building in Redfern, Sydney, which was 0ffered by accommodation provider Scape. The facility can accommodate up to 650 people.
According to the plan, all returning international students will need to be vaccinated with vaccines recognised by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), including Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, Moderna, and AstraZeneca.
This means most students allowed entry via the program would come from Singapore, Thailand, Hong Kong, Japan, Malaysia, and the United States. While those from other key markets like China and Nepal, who are vaccinated with Sinovac or Sinopharm, are likely to be excluded.
A government source told The Sydney Morning Herald that the Indian market is among the state government’s top priorities, which comes at a time when the two countries are about to reach a significant trade deal.
Universities will contact international students for their interest to participate in the pilot program.
NSW Treasurer Dominic Perrottet told The Sydney Morning Herald earlier this year that students studying medicine and health-related courses, as well as those about to finish their degrees, will be given priority to return.
Deputy NSW Premier John Barilaro said the pilot would slowly expand and evolve as vaccination rates continue to rise across the state and internationally.
“The international education sector sustains thousands of jobs across NSW, and I’m proud that NSW is leading the way with the return of international students to our shores,” Barilaro said in a statement.
He added that the pilot would not come at the expense of Australian citizens and residents returning home.
The announcement was praised and welcomed by the higher education sector.
“After over 18 months of planning, we are delighted that both the Australian and NSW Government are supportive of a pilot plant for an incremental reopening of our borders to our international students,” said Professor Barney Glover, Governor of the NSW Vice-Chancellors’ Committee.
Universities involved in the pilot include Macquarie University, The University of Sydney, University of New South Wales, University of Technology Sydney, Western Sydney University, Australian Catholic University, The University of Newcastle, and University of Wollongong, as well as independent providers like the International College of Management Sydney, Kaplan, Navitas, RedHill, and Study Group.
NSW currently has over 57,000 overseas students who are trying to enter the state, according to Minister for Western Sydney Stuart Ayres. While the state usually has over 250,000 international students each year, future students can opt to alternative destinations such as the U.S., U.K., and Canada if Australia keeps its border shut.
The international education sector contributed $14.6 billion to the state and $37.6 billion to the nation in 2019. It’s estimated that the lack of international students due to the COVID-19 pandemic will cost NSW around $11 billion (US$8 billion) by late 2022.