return to australia final
A family leave to board a plane at Sydney's International Airport on November 1, 2021, as Australia's international border reopens almost 600 days after a pandemic closure began. Source: Saeed Khan/AFP

More than 200,000 international students can return to Australia from next month without an exemption, after shutting its borders to them since last March. Prime Minister Scott Morrison formally announced this on Monday, Nov. 22, 2021.

The country has reached over 85% double-dose vaccination rates for adults aged over 16 on Sunday, moving it to the final phase of its reopening plan.

“Australia is re-opening to the world,” said Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews as she announced the news, adding it was “yet another step forward for Australia.”

Eligible skilled migrants and refugees are also expected to return to Australia next month, from as early as Dec. 1, 2021. This “major milestone” in Australia’s pathway back to normality is reportedly set to occur “from December 1,” according to Morrison.

Their return, as well as of students, will provide the boost Australia’s economy had needed for almost two years, Morrison said.

“We said let’s get Australians home first, and that’s been occurring, and so from next month we will welcome back students and start looking to (bring back) the skilled workers that are needed to ensure we are able to take full advantage of the economic recovery that we are working to secure,” he said.

“It’ll mean a lot for the economies around the country who need those workers and want to see those students return.”

Last month, the Morrison government lifted restrictions on Australians travelling overseas, a move that led to a flood of travel bookings for the southern hemisphere summer. Non-Australians, however, were not accorded the same relaxation of rules.

An estimated 1.4 million skilled visa holders are stuck in Australia, unable to return if they decided to leave.

Business groups had lobbied hard for vaccinated visa holders to be allowed to return, as they struggle to fill jobs and gird for the beginning of a third year of restrictions. Among those most vocal in calling for rules to be further relaxed was the beleaguered university sector.

According to Universities Australia, an industry group, 130,000 international students remain outside the country. There had been fears that many Asian students would opt to study in person in the US or Europe rather than pay for online courses based in Australia.

Steps to return to Australia

Andrews clarified that “eligible visa holders” included skilled workers and students, as well as refugees, humanitarians, temporary and provisional visa holders.

While some Australian states still require quarantine, vaccinated Australians, some visa holders and citizens of Japan, South Korea and Singapore will now be able to visit Australia with only a pre-departure negative Covid-19 test.

“In order to access the new provisions, travellers will need to be fully vaccinated, and they will need to present a negative PCR test taken within three days prior to their departure.”