student return to Australia
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaks during a press conference at Australia's Parliament House in Canberra on March 22, 2020. - Morrison told citizens to cancel any domestic travel plans to slow the spread of coronavirus, warning stronger measures were imminent to deal with localised outbreaks. (Photo by DAVID GRAY / AFP)

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has announced that the much-anticipated international student return to Australia will be paused until citizens stuck overseas are brought home, Reuters reports on Friday.

The island country is facing a shortage of quarantine facilities, even as it limits the number of Australians allowed to return home to minimise the spread of COVID-19. Over 34,0000 citizens and permanent residents are trying to return home from overseas, according to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. “There is a queue, and Australians are in the front of the queue,” Morrison told reporters in Canberra.

This would effectively pause the pilot programmes to bring small numbers of international students back to the Northern Territory (particularly, Charles Darwin University) and South Australia.

International student return to Australia rife with uncertainties

A new report by Victoria University’s Mitchell Institute predicts that Australia will lose half of its international student population by mid-2021 if borders remain closed. As a result, the country stands to lose AU$21.4 billion in revenue from university spending as well as goods and services expenditure in the wider economy.

Mitchell Institute Policy Fellow and report author, Dr Peter Hurley, describes this as a “double whammy” for the Australian economy. “The international student pipeline has been greatly disrupted, so even when the international education sector does open up, it may take longer to get the flow of enrolments to the way it was,” he told Study International through telephone.

This quagmire highlights the close link between international education and migration policy. Stay tuned to Study International for a closer look at the report.