Trade and Tourism Minister Simon Birmingham has told the National Press Club that arrangements are being made to open Australia’s borders to international students soon.
He also said it is “more likely” that citizens will not be able to travel overseas until next year, as opposed to later in 2020.
The minister stated that longer-term visitors, such as those travelling for business, would also be allowed to enter the country, provided they also undergo the mandatory two-weeks quarantine in a state or territory-designated facility.
“Those who might not only be international students but be here for longer-term work purposes or longer-term business and investment purposes, logically you can extend those sort of same safeguards to them and their state,” Minister Birmingham said.
He made note of the previously touted ‘travel bubble’ between Australia and New Zealand, with the potential of extending said bubble to other countries that have fared well in the combat of COVID-19.
“In terms of other countries and how we look at shorter-term visitation, that becomes much more challenging once you move beyond New Zealand, but not impossible,” Minister Birmingham said.
“I hope that we can look eventually at some of those countries who have similar successes in suppressing the spread of COVID to Australia and New Zealand, and in working through that with those countries, find safe pathways to deal with essential business travel that helps to contribute to jobs across our economies.
“But I do, sadly, think that in terms of open tourist-related travel in or out of Australia, that remains quite some distance off, just because of the practicalities of the volumes that are involved and the need for us to first and foremost keep putting health first.”
Upon being asked if the international borders would reopen next year rather than this year, Minister Birmingham said, “Honestly, I think that is more likely the case.”
300 foreign students to be flown into Canberra
Also on Wednesday, The Australian reported that over 300 international students from around the globe are now set to fly into Canberra next month, the first foreign students to touch down in Australia since the borders closed in March.
The University of Canberra and the Australian National University are reportedly in the process of organising a single flight from an international travel hub into Canberra Airport late next month, for postgraduate, honours and final-year undergraduate foreign students.
The decision has reportedly been approved by ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr, and praised by Prime Minister Scott Morrison, as Canberra forges ahead in reinvigorating the tertiary education sector.
“We need to do these things safely, we have to be very considerate of the appropriate quarantine measures,” Chief Minister Barr said on Wednesday.
“We think they can be safely managed … we’ll do a pilot, we’ll assess it. The universities are our largest export industries and employers in our cities.”
University of Canberra vice-chancellor Paddy Nixon said the plan showed the commitment of Australian universities to foreign students and provided an assurance they would have as much face-to-face teaching on campus as possible.
“We are one of the safest cities in one of the safest nations in the world and we are pulling out all stops to welcome back our continuing international students,” he said.
ANU vice-chancellor Brian Schmidt said that while the students will need to be quarantined for two weeks in hotels — with costs to be divided between students, the universities, and the ACT government — they will be learning from the minute they land.
“We have a whole academic and pastoral program set up so they won’t be sitting in hotels idly,” he said.
“And coming out, they will find an ANU which is open for teaching … We’re not making any money out of these students coming from overseas. They are all paying fees already. This is us following through our commitment to them over the years.
“For new students thinking about coming in 2021, this program will show Australia is very safe when it comes to coronavirus and we do everything we can to support our students.”