Families, partners, and friends of international students are rejoicing as Australian borders finally opens up to the rest of the world.
When the COVID-19 pandemic made its first wave in 2020, the Australian border was shut in what has become one of the strictest travel bans in the world. This left many visitors to the country, including relatives of Australian residents and international students, unable to enter as its gates remained shut to the rest of the world.
Now, all double-vaccinated travellers will be permitted into the country without having to quarantine. Unvaccinated travellers can enter under certain conditions, such as having an individual exemption or valid medical reasons. They are required to isolate themselves in a hotel for up to 14 days. The cost of quarantine will not be covered.
This move sees the Australian government shifting its policy towards managing the Omicron variant without imposing lockdowns, an unprecedented approach after two years of hard border closures. The country recently achieved a 94% vaccination rate for people aged 16 or over, many of whom have received additional booster shots.
Since the borders reopened, students have returned to Australia in larger numbers from some countries than others. The numbers of students from India and Nepal have increased the most, seeing a 50% rise in visa holders from these countries travelling to Australia in the past six weeks.
Visitors are permitted to enter all states except for Western Australia, which will stay closed until March 3. Those hoping to step foot into the state will require a booster jab along with their two vaccinations.
It’s a much-needed reprieve for students, who were left clamouring for information on the latest news regarding the Australian border opening for two years. Many previously expressed frustration at the Australian government for a lack of clear communication on this front, as well as uncertainty on their eventual date of return as plans around this kept shifting with every new COVID-19 outbreak.
“Throughout these months, all we were asking for was clear communication between the government and students,” an Indian student said. “Not just fear-mongering, so we would have had some clarity.”
Australian border opening allows families, partners and friends to reunite
International arrivals began coming in over the last few hours in Sydney, where crowds of Australian nationals and residents were eagerly waiting to be reunited with their loved ones. The first of these was a 6.20 a.m. Qantas flight from Los Angeles, with 56 flights expected to arrive within the day.
Airports have been sites for scenes of tearful reunions between family members, partners, and friends. Spectators recount seeing travellers greeted with koala and kangaroo toys at Sydney Airport’s arrivals hall, along with “welcome home” balloons and bouquets.
Federal minister for trade, tourism, and industry Dan Tehan was present at the airport on Monday morning. “It’s been a party out here at Sydney airport,” he said. “To see the way people have been united – the hugs, the tears – has been wonderful. The future is looking very, very bright. I’ll do everything possible to keep the border open.”
Many international students were locked out of Australia as the country shut its borders to the world. However, just as many were stuck in the country, and were therefore unable to see their loved ones for two years.
Cindy Moss had an emotional reunion with her daughter after a long period of separation. “I just haven’t seen her in so long and it was such a big thing to be able to get over here. So I’m so excited,” she said. Moss travelled all the way from the US state of Kentucky to see her daughter.
Others, like British banker Roger Smyth, were overcome with joy to reunite with their partners. Smyth was one of the first visitors after the Australian border opened. He had been anxiously waiting to reunite with his girlfriend, Tokyo-born Danni Wang, who is currently studying in the country.
“I tried every day to get here,” Smyth told Bloomberg. “We tried to make it on Valentine’s Day, I applied for an exception but I got declined.”
Flights to Australia remain affordable. Travelling from Los Angeles to Sydney costs around US$1,036, over US$1,700 cheaper than usual. This falls in line with Australia’s efforts to boost their tourism sector, which was hit hard by the effects of the pandemic.
Tony Brown, who runs True Blue Sailing in Queensland, told Bloomberg that he was feeling “really positive” about the Australian border opening after receiving bookings up until December 2022. “That’s showing there’s a confidence level that hasn’t been in the marketplace for a number of years now,” he said.