Australia’s borders
Australia’s borders could gradually reopen to international students from February onwards, depending on the state and jurisdiction. Source: Saeed Khan/AFP

International students are still waiting with bated breath over when they can return to Australia. There’s not been much positive news over the reopening of Australia’s borders to students. A spike in COVID-19 cases has meant pilot schemes to bring international students back to Australia have been paused while the country focuses on bringing back stranded Australians abroad. So, what’s the current situation? Here’s what we know so far about Australia’s borders:

Australian Capital Territory (ACT)

If all goes well, international students could return to Canberra by February 2021. The Australian Capital Territory (ACT) Chief Minister Andrew Barr wrote to Prime Minister Scott Morrison to greenlight a plan to return international students from February 2021, said the Canberra Times. His plan includes alternating incoming flights of vulnerable Australians with flights of international students for the first three months of 2021.

South Australia

South Australia’s pilot scheme that would see up to 300 international students brought to three state-owned South Australian universities  — University of Adelaide, Flinders University and University of South Australia — could happen early this year. A state government spokesperson told SBS Punjabi, “While we remain committed to the return of Australians, we are working closely with the universities and all relevant agencies to safely welcome back students as soon as possible.”

Previously, experts familiar with the matter said plans were in the offing for the pilot scheme to bring international students to the three universities starting from November 2020 through January 2021. The three universities have already sent out letters of offer to the cohort of students to put them on “standby.” The state government previously confirmed that international students from nine countries — Singapore, Japan, South Korea, China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Thailand and Indonesia — have been invited to join the pilot programme. 

Northern Territory

The Northern Territory became the first jurisdiction to welcome back a small number of international students on Nov. 30, 2020 under a pilot scheme. Charles Darwin University (CDU) welcomed 63 international students — the first successful attempt after months of discussions and planning. The scheme was approved by the Australian and Northern Territory government.

This pilot scheme, which saw students from China, Hong Kong, Japan, Vietnam and Indonesia get to Darwin from Singapore via a charter flight, is the first successful attempt after months of planning. A CDU spokesperson told SBS Punjabi that they are waiting for approval from the Morrison Government to fly in the next batch of students to Darwin in the coming months. It was previously reported that Indian students could be next to return to Australia, but no confirmation has been made at this stage.

Australia’s borders could gradually reopen to international students from February onwards, depending on the state and jurisdiction. Source: Saeed Khan/AFP


Australia’s second-smallest state is still working towards facilitating the return of international students. Previously, the Victorian government was considering a proposal to fly up to 23,000 international students into Victoria early this year and allow them to quarantine in student accommodation. The plan was put forward by a team of international education and accommodation groups who are aiming to bring back students without taking hotel quarantine places away from returning Australians. Under the proposal, 23,000 international students would arrive between January 2020 and the university census date of April 30, 2020. They would arrive via chartered flights paid for by accommodation companies.

New South Wales

NSW’s pilot scheme to return 1,000 international students to Sydney each week has been shelved by the state’s government. A federal Department of Education spokeswoman said NSW had not yet submitted “a formal plan” and that bringing Australians home was the government’s first priority. Senior NSW government sources were quoted saying that a detailed plan to return 1,000 students had been developed late last year, but this had been put on hold since the northern beaches and western Sydney COVID-19 outbreaks. NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian previously said she wanted the state to use a third of its hotel quarantine slots to take in international students, skilled migrants and specialist workers needed by businesses. While the state is not in a position to increase its quarantine capacity above 3,000 a week, Berejiklian called on other states to shoulder more weight by increasing their capacity for returning Australians.