Australia to halve international arrivals — will this derail student pilot plans?

pilot plan
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced a four-phase pathway out of COVID-19 on July 2. Source: Biance De Marchi/Pool/AFP

New South Wales Treasurer Dominic Perrottet announced on June 10 that the state would bring a small number of international students back to Sydney per fortnight from mid-year under a pilot plan. While the pilot scheme is expected to run despite the COVID-19 outbreak in Sydney, it is unclear how future intakes would be affected. 

The National Cabinet agreed to a four-phase plan to reopen the country last Friday (July 2), which will depend on Australians getting vaccinated. According to The Sydney Morning Herald, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said the new plan to reopen the country had cast doubt on the state’s long-term plans for returning international students. 

According to the report, the plan agreed to by the National Cabinet is not expected to derail proposed pilot plans, as a statement by the National Cabinet notes: “Expand commercial trials for limited entry of student and economic visa holders”.

It is unclear how the state aims to ramp up its intake of students in line with the halving of international arrivals from July 14 and the cap on student visa holders proposed in the later stages of the reopening roadmap. Berejiklian said on Saturday there was a “huge question mark” over what impact the new measures — as well as Sydney’s COVID-19 outbreak — would have on the state’s ability to return international students to NSW campuses as planned.

Also highlighted under the first phase in the National Cabinet statement is, from July 14, the number of international arrivals permitted into Australia on commercial flights will be halved. This is to reduce the pressure on quarantine facilities due to the increased risks of the Delta strain of the virus. 

The second phase includes restoring inbound passengers caps at previous levels for unvaccinated returning travellers and larger caps for vaccinated returning travellers as well as allowing capped entry of student and economic visa holders subject to quarantine arrangements and availability. The third phase of the roadmap includes allowing increased capped entry of student, economic, and humanitarian visa holders.

pilot plan

It is unclear how NSW will ramp up its intake of students via their pilot plan, in line with the halving of international arrivals from July 14. Source: Adem Altan/AFP

What we know so far about Australia’s pilot plans 

NSW expects the federal government to approve its pilot plan to bring back 250 international students into the state every fortnight. They will enter via charter flights and then quarantine in special accommodation. The international student allocation will be in addition to the current number of returning Australians allowed into NSW each week. “This won’t come at the expense of returning Aussies. We will continue to bring back 3,000 people per week — well more than any other state,” Perrottet previously said.

South Australia’s pilot plan to bring international students back to the state was approved by the Australian federal government last month. State premier Steven Marshall confirmed the news in a press statement. International students will quarantine at facilities in Parafield Airport. 

The Victorian government has submitted a draft plan to the federal government in mid-June. a  spokesman told The Sydney Morning Herald. The plan outlines how Victoria will facilitate the arrival of international students in a safe and measured way. State government data shows that international education was the state’s single largest export sector in 2019, worth 13.7 billion Australian dollars and supporting around 79,000 Victorian jobs. Over 250,000 international students travelled to Victoria to study last year, but the current number of international students in Victoria sits at 120,000 due to the impact of the pandemic.