Due to the concerns about the spread of the Omicron variant, Australia declared last month that it will postpone the reopening of its borders to overseas students from December 1 to December 15.
Although Australia’s border closure, New South Wales (NSW) will keep its borders open to overseas students as part of a pilot program to welcome back 500 international students in December. On December 6, the first group of international students arrived in Sydney.
As part of the state government’s International Student Arrivals Pilot Plan, these students arrived from Singapore on Monday morning. Students who were stranded have been overseas for more than 20 months. Many people have taken to social media to express their concerns, using the hashtag #LetUSBackToAus on Twitter and Facebook. Those who have been stalled in their studies can now finally obtain the university experience for which they have paid. Students from over 15 countries enrolled in the pilot program, including Indonesia, Singapore, Vietnam, South Korea, China, and Canada.
“I’m really excited to get the chance to be on the first flight of the NSW pilot program,” said Chloe Zhu, a University of New South Wales (UNSW) Science undergraduate from China said. “I’m looking forward to being back in Sydney, catching up with friends, strolling around the campus, joining student societies and clubs, and starting my colourful university life!”
Professor Ian Jacobs, UNSW President and Vice-Chancellor, said the university has been engaging with government and health organizations for more than 18 months to reintroduce overseas students. “International students play a vital role in the UNSW community, and the vibrancy they bring to our university has been sorely missed,” he said. “While the uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 Omicron variant remains, we remain cautiously optimistic that this cohort will be the first of many to arrive for the start of the first term next year.”
While just a few students are permitted to return to the state, the University of Sydney advises accepted students to proceed with their student visa application. “Obtaining a student visa will allow students to travel at a later date and for those commencing their studies remotely, it ensures their offshore study is recognized towards any post-study work rights,” said the university on its website.
On December 24, a second flight bringing students from South Asia is planned to arrive in Sydney. The second flight will depart from Colombo, Sri Lanka, and link with passengers from India, Nepal, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, according to UNSW. More flights are expected to begin in early January next year, according to the institution.
As Australian institutions adjust to the post-pandemic crisis, Dr. Peter Hurley, an education policy expert at Victoria University’s Mitchell Institute, says 2022 will be the most difficult hurdle to surmount. According to him, the number of new overseas students was 70 to 80 per cent lower than they were before the pandemic. Because of the limited number of pilot flights in December and January, qualifying students who can return to Australia will be approached personally by Macquarie University, according to the university’s website.
There is no quarantine mandate with the impending trial program to bring back international students, as long as travellers test negative. Visit Study NSW’s website for the most up-to-date information.