International students could travel to Australia soon, with the first pilot programme to bring them back “in a very controlled setting” planned to take place next month.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the government is planning this today.
“We’ve received some very, I think, well-thought-through proposals from states as to how this can be done, particularly here in the ACT,” Morrison said after today’s national cabinet meeting, as reported by 9News
“This is something that I’m sure we would all welcome happening again, but it has to be done with the appropriate quarantine entry arrangements and biosecurity.”
Pre-approved plans for particular institutions could begin next month, but not before states reopen their own borders — which Morrison expects to happen in July — adding that these changes were “still a little way away”.
“I made clear to the states and territories today: if someone can’t come to your state from Sydney, then someone can’t come to your state from Singapore,” Morrison said. He did not give other details.
Australia has 524 active cases of COVID-19. No coronavirus deaths have been recorded since May 23. It is in the third state of its three-step plan to create a “COVIDSafe society with new ways of living and working” after its shutdown from March 23.
Letting students travel to Australia ‘a sensible approach’
Universities Australia — the peak body for the sector — welcomed the announcement, calling the trial for the safe return of students “a sensible approach”.
Universities Australia Chief Executive Catriona Jackson said, “The gradual reintroduction of international students into Australia requires careful planning with coordination between universities, governments across jurisdictions, health authorities and other key stakeholders.”
“Any trial will rigorously test the controlled entry of international students and will include robust quarantine arrangements put in place by state and territory governments.”
In 2019, the international education sector contributed 39 billion Australian dollars to the Australian economy in 2019 and is its third-biggest export. In a country dealing with its first recession in decades, Jackson described international students “a good bet as COVID-safe citizens” as they understand the need to follow rules on healthy and hygiene practices.
‘Record of multiculturalism’
The confirmation of plans to allow foreigners to travel to Australia under approved plans to study at nominated institutions follows its recent diplomatic flare-up with China, its largest source of foreign students.
The statement by China’s ministry of education said, “The spread of the new global COVID-19 outbreak has not been effectively controlled, and there are risks in international travel and open campuses. During the epidemic, there were multiple discriminatory incidents against Asians in Australia.”
“The Ministry of Education reminds all overseas students to do a risk assessment and is currently cautious in choosing to study in Australia or return to Australia.”
The tension between the two nations began when China’s ambassador to Australia made a comment in response to Australia’s call for an independent inquiry into the origin of COVID-19.
Cheng Jingye told the Australian Financial Review, “People would think, why should we go to such a country that is not friendly to China? The parents of the students would… think whether this place which they’ve found is even hostile is the best place to send their kids.”
Then, China hit Australia with several import limitations but denied that it was economic retaliation.
All this took place while a travel ban keeping 100,000 Chinese students away from their Australian universities stayed firmly in place.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison dismissed claims that China’s warning would deter its citizens’ plans to travel to Australia to study.
“When it comes to our record of multiculturalism, of freedom of religion, of liberty, treating everybody equally — I’m happy to stack Australia’s record up all around the world,” Morrison said.