Visa Crunch

Australia To Welcome Vaccinated International Students, Skilled Workers From December 1

Starting next week, fully inoculated international students, visa holders, and visitors from Japan and South Korea will be allowed to enter Australia.

Qualifying visa holders will be able to visit Australia without having the need to qualify for a travel exemption commencing in December, said Prime Minister Scott Morrison. “The return of skilled workers and students to Australia is a major milestone in our pathway back, it’s a major milestone about what Australians have been able to achieve and enable us to do,” he said.

Those on refugee and working holiday visas are also eligible, in addition to students and skilled workers. Accepting visitors from such nations will help the tourism industry recover, even more, said Karen Andrews, the Minister of Home Affairs.

“These changes are crucially important to Australia as we go through our reopening phase,” she said. “We are working on a figure of 2,00,000, it may well be more than that but we will be actively looking to bring as many people into Australia as soon as we possibly can.”

When the border was shut to everyone but Australian citizens and permanent residents in March of last year in reaction to the looming pandemic, migration numbers plummeted. However, nearly two years later, numerous industries are experiencing a shortage of workers, putting ventures such as large public infrastructure projects in jeopardy.

From December 1, the migrant intake will increase to roughly 2,00,000 spaces per year, but it is unclear how many more slots would be made available in each area. There are currently 79,600 skilled visa slots available, 13,750 humanitarian visa slots available, and no limit on the number of student visas that can be awarded.

Fully vaccinated international students will no longer require an exemption to fly to Australia, but they will be subjected to the quarantine policies of the state or territory they are visiting. International students will return to universities early next year, according to Finance Minister Simon Birmingham.

“We would be encouraging them to make their plans and to be back here to give that lift to universities and to the many other parts of our economy that have benefited so much from international students over the years. As with returning international Australian citizens and permanent residents, you’ve got Victoria and New South Wales (NSW) who have been playing a leading role in reopening their international borders,” Birmingham said.

He further added, “other states have spelled (sic) out different criteria for when they will provide that type of movement, and that will be a matter for those states to continue to work through those issues, and we’ll respect that.

As per Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, more migration would hasten the recovery of the economy from the consequences of the pandemic.

“Both skilled workers and international students play an essential role in our economy,” he said. “International students are worth some $40 billion to our economy. “We know that there are workforce shortages out there and skilled workers can play a key part in meeting some of those shortages”.

The return of overseas students, who contribute around AUD $35 b ($25 b) to the Australian economy each year, will be a significant boost to the education industry.

According to government figures, more than 2,35,000 foreigners, including around 1,60,000 students, had visas for Australia at the end of October. Several Australian universities have come to depend on international students, who account for roughly 21% of total enrolments, and the border shutdown has resulted in the layoff of hundreds of employees. Many students who have been shut out of Australia have stated that if they are unable to begin face-to-face learning in 2022, they would transfer to another university.

The CEO of Universities Australia, Catriona Jackson, said the announcement was welcome news for the more than 1,30,000 students who had been stranded due to the border shutdown, which had lasted more than 18 months.

Though, as per health data, 85 per cent of eligible Australians over the age of 16 were fully vaccinated as of November 20. Western Australia’s internal border is still blocked to citizens from New South Wales and Victoria, with Premier Mark McGowan requiring a 90% vaccination rate before entry restrictions are relaxed, which is expected in late January or February.

As per the International Education Association of Australia, chief executive Phil Honeywood, the differing quarantine regulations for each state and territory is a “dog’s breakfast” for students planning their return.

International students can currently only enter the country through a limited number of routes, such as the NSW and Victoria trial programs. It’s unclear how a larger relaxation of the international student prohibition will affect these experimental projects, which will see up to 250 vaccinated students flown into NSW on charter aircraft every two weeks before Christmas.

On December 6 and 24, the first charter flights will arrive in NSW. The first charter flight is scheduled to arrive on December 23, with five more trips scheduled for January.

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