Australia suggests Singapore as quarantine hub for returning international students

travel bubble
The Morrison government is working on a travel bubble plan with Singapore. Source: David Gray/AFP

The Australian government is working on a two-way travel bubble plan with Singapore that could play a role in reviving Australia’s billion-dollar international education sector. Under the proposals, Australia could establish Singapore as a quarantine gateway, holiday destination and potential vaccination hub for returning Australians, international students and business travellers, reported The Sydney Morning Herald. 

It could also be possible for people from third countries to enter Australia via Singapore after completing two weeks’ quarantine in the city-state. The deal would help facilitate the return of approximately 40,000 Australians stranded abroad, boost tourism to Australia from Singaporean nationals and third countries down the track, and jumpstart the multibillion-dollar market for international students at Australian universities.

New Zealand could also be involved in a three-way travel bubble that federal government sources are hopeful will be up and running by July or August. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison previously said Australia was on track to reopening its borders by the October target, but there were no guarantees.

The report said multiple Morrison government sources told The Sun-Herald and The Sunday Age Trade Minister Dan Tehan and Government Services Minister Stuart Robert were driving the plan and leading behind-the-scenes policy work. Tehan confirmed he had held discussions with his Singaporean counterpart Chan Chun Sing about the plan, adding that they are “very keen to work with Australia on a proof of vaccination certificate and we agreed our officials should work together on this.” “I’m scheduled to travel to Singapore in the coming months and this will be a key topic of discussions as we seek to explore a travel bubble with Singapore,” he was quoted saying.

What does the proposed travel bubble entail?

travel bubble

Would the success of the Singapore-Australia travel bubble spell good news for stranded international students? Source: David Gray/AFP

Among the details in the proposal include: 

  • Singaporean nationals who have been vaccinated would be able to travel to Australia for work, study or holidays without having to quarantine for two weeks.
  • It could be possible for people from third countries to enter Australia via Singapore after quarantining for two weeks in the city-state.
  • New Zealanders can currently travel to Australia without going through quarantine, but a two-way bubble has stalled because of New Zealand’s reluctance to open to Australia.

For the travel bubbles to work, each country must recognise digital vaccine certificates.

International students have been lobbying for their safe return to Australia for months. Recently, the Tasmanian government poured cold water on the New South Wales (NSW) government’s plan that would see the state quarantining international students on behalf of NSW. NSW Treasurer Dominic Perrottet said on March 8 that the two-state governments have had “extensive discussions” on a proposal for international students to quarantine in Hobart hotels before travelling to NSW. This initiative would help revive the state’s 14 billion Australian dollar education sector.

Previously, flip-flopping government announcements have left students stranded abroad high and dry — state premiers have floated proposals to bring international students back to Australia, only to announce later that they’ve been put on hold. Remote students have complained about the poor quality of online learning and wish to return to face-to-face learning as soon as possible.