Premier champions quick reopening of New South Wales borders to international students

New South Wales borders
Premier Gladys Berejiklian is championing the reopening of New South Wales’ borders so international students can return and boost the economy. Source: William West/AFP

Are international students on track to return to New South Wales by Q1 2021? The states’ premier is championing the earlier return of students, ideally as early as January 2021, putting her at loggerheads with the federal government. Prime Minister Scott Morrison previously announced that the much-anticipated international student return to Australia will be paused until citizens stuck overseas are brought home. However, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian wants the state’s borders to open to international students within six weeks, according to The Sydney Morning Herald.

The National Cabinet’s stance is to prioritise hotel quarantine for the return of Australians from overseas, as detailed in a press statement on Nov. 13, 2020: “Quarantine space must be prioritised to Australians, including vulnerable Australians, seeking to return home. While we look forward to welcoming international students back and will continue planning for their return, we cannot progress the broader entry of international students at this time.”

Quoting her interview with The Sun-Herald, The Sydney Morning Herald said Berejiklian wants the state to use a third of its hotel quarantine slots to take in international students, skilled migrants and specialist workers needed by businesses. This works out to approximately 1,000 people a week, ideally starting in January. New South Wales is not in a position to increase its quarantine capacity above 3,000 a week, but Berejiklian called on other states to shoulder more weight by increasing their capacity for returning Australians. 

“New South Wales would like to look at things that boost our economy … not just returning Aussies,” she said. “We would like to start that as soon as we can in the new year but obviously that’s up to the federal government to let us do that.”

Reopening of New South Wales borders to boost economy

Berejiklian warned that universities risk losing their staff and jobs if the state cannot bring in  international students, adding that last week’s employment figures showed New South Wales was the only state where unemployment fell (by 0.7%) except for Western Australia (0.1%). “Australia is now relying on New South Wales to prop up the economy. Melbourne has been out of action and the other states haven’t really been doing their bit. If other states lifted their game and had more returning Aussies, that would allow the economic powerhouse of New South Wales to bring back students and keep universities employing people,” she was quoted saying.

Speaking to SBS News, International Education Association chief executive Phil Honeywood said the push would offer a lifeline to the international education sector, which has been rocked by Australia’s COVID-19 travel restrictions. Honeywood said Canada and the UK have been able to keep their borders open throughout the pandemic.

“If Australia does not open its borders soon to this very large industry — then these young people and their parents are going to vote with their feet and just take market share off Australia,” he said, adding that priority should be given to returning international students who through “no fault of their own” have been stranded offshore. “The international education industry has been looking for a premier brave enough to come out and show proof of life to our beleaguered industry,” said Honeywood. 

Over 34,0000 citizens and permanent residents are trying to return home from overseas, according to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Australia’s Finance Minister Simon Birmingham said he was open to bringing in international students in the future, but the focus had to remain on returning citizens stranded abroad.

“We still have many thousands of Australians hoping to get back by Christmas,” he told Sky News on Nov. 22, 2020. “But if we can see fast enough movement in terms of the bringing down of that list of returning Australians, then I would like nothing more than to see international students able to safely come through proven processes.”

Pilot programmes to return small numbers of international students have already been announced in the Northern Territory, South Australia and the Australian Capital Territory (ACT). At the time of writing, the ACT and South Australian programme have been delayed. Charles Darwin University (CDU) said it is on track to welcome up to 70 international students from Asia on Nov. 30, 2020.