Australia’s pilot programme to bring in 300 international students to South Australia is reportedly days away from being finalised this week. In a statement to SBS Punjabi, a state government spokesperson said they are waiting for the federal government’s approval of the proposal. “The South Australian Government is still working closely with the Commonwealth and relevant agencies to ensure a pilot programme provides a safe return for up to 300 international students,” the spokesperson was quoted saying.

According to the report, it is understood that Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s government is expected to prioritise finding a resolution on internal border bans and caps on international arrivals before giving its consent to South Australia to fly back its international students. International Education Association of Australia (IEAA) CEO Phil Honeywood was quoted saying that it is difficult to commit to a timeline until Morrison signs off on South Australia’s plan. He said Morrison will be meeting state premiers and chief ministers today to try and reach an agreement on lifting the caps on international arrivals.

Once an agreement has been reached and the state border ban issue settled, “we believe it will be a much better situation to bring 300 students into South Australia,” he said. Honeywood also expects the Northern Territory government to also get a sign off on their plan to bring back overseas students. “In the meantime, the Northern Territory government will get sworn in on Friday and we understand that the Northern Territory might also get a sign off on their pilot plan. I am hopeful that both South Australia and Northern Territory will get sign-offs around the same time, but it will all be up to the Prime Minister,” he said.

International students in Australia – what we know so far

Some 7,000 of the state’s international students are currently stranded offshore due to COVID-19 border closures. At the time of writing, the South Australian government had yet to confirm if international students for the pilot programme will come from countries with high COVID-19 risk.

The South Australia government spokesperson said that the decision on source countries will be made only after the plan gets approved by Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s government. “At this stage, the programme hasn’t received final approval and therefore details about the programme, including students’ nationalities cannot be confirmed.”

Previously, South Australia Premier Steven Marshall said that the government is finalising plans to welcome these student returnees and monitoring the outbreak in top feeder countries, as well as in Australia, but that “no decisions have been made” about where they will come from. Australian High Commissioner to India Barry O’Farrell had previously said Indian students won’t be part of the pilot programmes being considered by the federal and the state governments unless one of those plans propose direct access into India.

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