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Where there is a will, there’s a way to open up Australian Border for International Students

If I am Morrison, this is how I will bring back the International Students even “without a vaccine” and without compromising on the safety of the populace. Such a proposal will bring back life in the sector.

Yes, there is a need to have a strategy for such a scenario and possibly there is already a draft for such BUT there is a greater need to announce such a plan upfront and now. Then only the pipeline of students can be assured and commit. They can then begin their online study from offshore. You may refer to the “without a vaccine” strategy as the Plan B but I guess it should be Plan A. 

Step 1: Now till early December 2020.

The PM has already negotiated with the state premiers on increasing the weekly cap on the number of international arrivals into Australia. It is a marginal increase from 4000 to 6000 a month and this will be rolled  out over the next month. This is with the intent to bring back the overseas stranded Australian Residents (Citizen and PR) and well before Christmas. “Christmas at home” requires them to be back in Australia by first week of December to factor in the mandatory 15 days quarantine.

There are reports that 24000 Australian residents are stranded overseas and wanting to return. I am not too sure. There may have been so many who have registered their interest to return back but this will include dual citizens and some of them may wish to spend the Christmas with family overseas especially when they know that the worst will soon be over and that in future it will be easier to board a flight back and be accommodated.

Step 2:  Mid December 2020 till mid-March 2021.

Once the flow-in of the stranded Australian Residents is within manageable limits, the borders can be eased. More categories of incoming travellers can be allowed from December 2020 – January 2021. This can include students with visas and unable to study the course online and preference being given to those who have been stranded for over six months. The weekly arrival caps can be increased as long as it is safe to do so and Australia has capacity to manage the quarantine. The incoming arrivals will have to pay for the quarantine (or be subsidised in the same by state government or Universities to an extent). International students are possibly the only set of travellers who can accept the “quarantine” as a condition to entry.

There are reports that more than 100,000 continuing students were stranded globally in May 2019 with bulk of them in China. These students will have to be prioritised over the later enrolled students. I would say that if we include all the students who have visas and have enrolled in an online degree currently, the total number of students to be prioritised for entry by December 2020 may touch 150,000. It will be these students who may first arrive between December and March and be enabled to commence studies in a more-normal manner on the campuses. The earlier announced pilots can be part of it though I believe a more open modality can be worked on now that the pressures to bring back stranded Australians would not be there assuming that Step 1 has been completed. Also the weekly caps on arrivals could go up to even 10000 and with all state borders open by Christmas, International arrivals can be at all International airports dividing the traffic and quarantine pressures.

Step 3: March 2021 onwards.

For this step to kick in, we assume that bulk of the stranded continuing students (those who have had visas and have been studying online) have been accommodated. Now the focus will shift to prospective students (or “yet to enrol” students). Such students can be advised to start their degree online for the March intake 2021 and between March and July, they can be accommodated for travel and quarantine. It is also our expectation that the weekly caps on arrivals would be linked to quarantine places. Students would be allowed to book a commercial airline and travel provided the quarantine has been booked and organised.

The above is my suggestion to bring in the “international students” without compromising on Australia’s safety. And the above doesn’t factor in an available vaccine.

However, there are indications that by end of the year, a reliable Vaccine might be available and by June 2021 it will also be widely available. If this is to happen then from July 2021, International travel (all categories) may just be permitted. If the Vaccine is not fully reliable or if the government wants to apply safe-guards, then pre-travel and post-arrival testing and a shorter quarantine can be adequate.

It is possible that such a plan is already drafted but what is essential is that it is announced ASAP. Where there is a will there’s a way…


-Ravi Lochan Singh

MD, Global Reach, a Company representing Australian Education Service providers in Eastern India

Elected President of the Association of Australian Education Representatives (AAERI)

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