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The Victorian government has proposed receiving extra travellers from May 24. Source: Saeed Khan/AFP

The Victorian government plans to bring international students back into the state from next month to aid the economic recovery of the state and nation. The planned scheme will see 120 people — including foreign students, actors and film crew, and those travelling into the country for business — entering the country each week on top of its quota of returning Australians, reported The Sydney Morning Herald. 

Under the proposal, the Victorian government will receive these travellers from May 24. They will quarantine in a different hotel from those housing the 1,000 returning citizens and residents the state is already taking in each week. Acting Premier James Merlino cites Victoria’s hosting of the Australian Open as part of its justification to take in the extra travellers in his letter to Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

“We’ve always said that we would work to welcome back international students when it is safe and reasonable to do so,” Merlino was quoted saying. “On the advice of our public health experts and in working with the Commonwealth we’ve put forward a proposal for a dedicated quarantine programme for economic cohorts, including international students. We believe we’ve acquitted all of the Commonwealth’s requirements to establish a dedicated economic stream so we look forward to their consideration and approval of this proposal.”

What will the Victorian government scheme entail?

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Under the proposed scheme by the Victorian government, international students can expect to pay a “higher than normal fee” from regular hotel quarantine. Source: David Gray/AFP

The Victorian government’s planned scheme will be funded by the firms seeking to bring foreigners into Australia. Travellers will fly in via commercial flights, pay a higher than normal fee and be administered separately from regular hotel quarantine, said the report. Quarantine procedures will follow the Victorian Chief Health Officer’s health pillars. Hotel staff outside Victoria’s existing quarantine system will have the same protective gear as their colleagues at regular quarantine hotels while travellers would go through the same testing process, said Merlino.

In a report by ABC News, Monash University Chancellor Margaret Gardener told ABC Radio Melbourne that the details were yet to be finalised, but the university sector expected to at least fund the plan partly. Gardener said their students “want to be on campus,” adding: “These students are in fact coming in much the same way that returning Australians are coming in from a variety of countries, many of which have very low levels of transmission.”

Shadow Assistant Minister for Education, Early Childhood, Higher Education, Training and Skills Matt Bach welcomed the move, but said it had come six months too late. “The government can hastily put together a plan to get international tennis stars into the state, some of whom were actually COVID positive, but when it comes to our most important export industry that’s worth 14 billion Australian dollars a year and supports 80,000 Victorian jobs, it’s taken six months,” he was quoted saying.

The Victorian government had previously reopened its hotel quarantine programme on April 8 and submitted a proposal to the federal government seeking to reserve 120 additional places for economic cohorts, including international students and skilled migrants. The plan, however, was rejected by the federal government, which is reportedly keen to greenlight pilot plans that can accommodate returning students in addition to their current caps for stranded citizens and permanent residents returning home.