When will international students return to Australia? According to the country’s federal budget papers, the answer may likely be in the later part of 2021. 

Australia’s treasury forecast — which was released on Oct. 6, 2020 — said COVID-19 is a once-in-a-century occurrence that has fundamentally reshaped Australia’s economic and fiscal outlook, adding that the pandemic has had a profound impact on higher education across the globe.

“A gradual return of international students and permanent migrants is assumed through the latter part of 2021, with small, phased pilot programmes beginning to return international students from late 2020,” Australia’s treasury predictions and assumptions from the 2020 federal budget said. The budget added that inbound and outbound international travel is expected to remain low through the latter part of 2021, after which a gradual recovery in international tourism is also assumed to occur.

Uncertainty looms on the horizon 

Better health outcomes in some of Australia’s major trading partners and the successful implementation of international student pilots could allow an earlier return of international students in 2021, reported SBS HindiIt added that persistent transmissions of the virus globally could delay the opening of international borders and the return of international tourism and students.

The treasury drew out a best-case and a worst scenario of border closures, with the upside scenario assuming an earlier return of international students in larger numbers from July 1, 2021, with COVID-19 under control and a vaccine rolled out at the same time. The downside scenario assumes that rolling outbreaks will necessitate the reimposition of severe containment measures, thus delaying the return of international students and tourists.

Previously, Australia’s Northern Territory Government had said it was working with Charles Darwin University to fly 70 international students to Darwin, Australia from Singapore next month, reported ABC News. A spokesman from Chief Minister Michael Gunner’s office said an agreement for a pilot programme in late October is in place with the Federal Government.

Previously, Phil Honeywood, CEO of the International Education Association of Australia, said South Australia and the Northern Territory are likely to be first to open their borders to international students. According to reports, it is still unclear who will bear the costs to bring international students into Australia, including their flights and quarantining.

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