Return to Australia: Here’s what we know so far

Return to Australia
The Morrison government hinted in its budget that that international students could return later this year via small phased programmes. Source: Stevens Saphore/AFP

There’s a lot of uncertainty for international students who are currently stranded abroad and wishing to return to Australia. News of pilot programmes have been raised and shelved multiple times, and frustrations have reached a crescendo. Previously, the Australia 2021-22 budget suggested that small phased programmes for international students are expected to commence in late 2021 and gradually increase from 2022. The budget was delivered by Treasurer Josh Frydenberg in Parliament on May 11. Despite this, many students remain skeptical over Australia’s announcements regarding their return to Australia. Here’s a round-up of what we know so far regarding the situation in Australia: 

Small groups of students could return to Australia via NSW pilot programme


The Guardian reported that New South Wales (NSW) is planning on bringing international students back into the state within months, using a 600-bed purpose-built quarantine site. This is despite Australia’s federal budget saying it did not expect international students to return in large numbers until 2022. According to the report, state treasurer Dominic Perrottet said some students could return as early as semester two, which starts at most NSW universities in August.

International Education Association of Australia chief executive Phil Honeywood confirmed the plan to Guardian Australia, and said that a 600-bed student accommodation site had been approved to be converted into a quarantine centre. Under the plan, returning international students would quarantine for 14 days. Their arrival would be counted under a separate arrival cap and would not take away spaces from returning Australian citizens and other international arrivals. Students would be brought in via charter flights rather than commercial flights, and will start with small numbers “in the low hundreds” to prove the model, said Honeywood.

He was quoted saying that the plan had been approved by NSW’s Department of Premier and Cabinet, and that the quarantine site — an existing, empty student accommodation building – had been inspected by both the government and police. “Approval has been given for one of them, potentially two, to be used as the student return plan for quarantine,” he said. The plan still needs to be approved by federal education minister Alan Tudge.

Chinese students could be welcomed back

return to australia

The Australia-China trade and diplomatic dispute could affect whether Chinese students could return to Australia. Source: Wang Zhao/AFP

Australia Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg had said that he hoped that Chinese students would be welcomed back to Australia despite souring relations between both countries in recent years, reported InDaily.

Speaking at a Business SA breakfast on Monday (May 17), Frydenberg was quoted saying that the federal government assumed that Australia would start welcoming back international students from the end of this year, subject to discussions between the state governments and universities about quarantine arrangements.

When asked by University of Adelaide Pro Vice-Chancellor Professor Noel Lindsay whether Australia should be “ignoring China (and) taking them out of our equation” following worsening trade and diplomatic disputes, Frydenberg said that he hoped that Chinese students would be welcomed back.

Plans to help students return to Australia described as ‘scollipop’


On social media, international students who are locked out of Australia have been using the term “scollipop” or lollipop to indicate new announcements by the Australian government as a sweet enticement or a meaningless promise of hope regarding their return to Australia, said The Lygon Group head of research Angela Lehmann in an op-ed in the Australian Financial Review. Social media posts indicate that the federal government is complicit in luring students under false pretences, she added.

NSW could reopen its borders with successful vaccination rollouts

return to australia

Could NSW’s vaccine rollout speed up international students return to Australia? Source: Saeed Khan/Pool/AFP

Successful vaccine rollouts could speed up the reopening of NSW’s borders. NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said some 10 million jabs were required to vaccinate the majority of the NSW population, reported The Australian. “We have around six million adults and you would think at least five million should be vaccinated before we can have those conversations (about borders),” she was quoted saying.

“I’d like to see that happen sooner than the middle of next year, and that depends on how many doses we get and how quickly we can vaccinate our population. If we get the majority of our population vaccinated we can think about opening our international borders. I hope if the vaccine rollout is better than anticipated that date can be brought forward.”