COVID-19 vaccine
It is "very possible" that with widespread immunisation, temporary visa holders could return to Australia. Source: Claudio Cruz/AFP

Here’s some welcome news for international students who are currently locked out of Australia: the country’s borders could reopen following successful COVID-19 vaccine rollouts around the world. When asked if Australia could lift its ban on the arrival of foreign nationals once vaccinations have been widely delivered, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said it was “very possible,” reported SBS Punjabi.

“What I’ve always been confident about is taking one step at a time when it comes to managing the virus. I’m confident that as we move through the vaccination process, we can significantly change how things are done here in Australia,” Morrison was quoted saying. The prime minister added whether or not Australia’s borders reopen will also depend on the success of COVID-19 vaccine programmes around the world, including in countries like India, where over 8.4 million people have already received their COVID-19 vaccines.

“When we’re thinking about countries in our own region, in Indonesia, for example, in India, I was talking to Prime Minister Modi about these things yesterday. There are big jobs to be done there,” said Morrison. “But look, I think it is a reasonable expectation that as time goes on, as the vaccination rolls out across the world and here in Australia, you should rightly expect that things will change in how we manage the virus.” 

Successful COVID-19 vaccine programmes spell welcome news for students

One expert, however, cautioned that immunisation doesn’t mean a swift return to pre-pandemic days. “We don’t want to get into a situation where we as Australians start travelling to countries in our region, including those that don’t have the health system that Australia is fortunate to have. We wouldn’t want to put undue stress on international settings that can’t cope with any variations in COVID numbers,” Professor Holly Seale, health associate of the School of Population Health, University of New South Wales, told SBS Punjabi.

COVID-19 vaccine

The COVID-19 vaccine is being rolled out worldwide, which could spell good news for international students locked out of Australia. Source: Torsten Blackwood/AFP

She added that many people are desperate to travel in and out of Australia, which could incentivise people to get the COVID-19 vaccine. “It’s important that we get some dialogue from the government going soon and have some answers to these questions because that may be a real reason that could get most of our people to go and get vaccinated,” Dr Seale said.

Australia’s handling of international students amid the pandemic has sparked criticism from many. Australian MP Julian Hill recently fired salvos at Morrison in parliament, saying “Australians are a better people than the way we’ve been represented by our prime minister, who has not shown any care, any empathy, any recognition of the plight that you have suffered, the destitution that you have faced, seeing, potentially, the life savings of your families threatened, being chucked out of work, being unable to pay rent, literally starving and relying on food vouchers.”

International students deserve “a lot” better from “this mean, miserable government,” Hill added. “There has been not one word of care from the prime minister, just a dismissive, arrogant, narcissistic ‘Go home!’ That embarrassed me and I was ashamed as an Australian at his lack of care,” he said. “It does not represent the views of Australians. You are welcome here and we look forward to the day where students are able to come back onshore and study in our communities.”

According to reports, the COVID-19 vaccine will be available to international students in Australia for free under the country’s five-phase vaccination strategy. Australia secured 150 million COVID-19 vaccine doses; the rollout is expected to begin on Feb. 22, 2021 and last until mid-October.