A pilot program to allow international students to fly into Australia will begin in September, Trade Minister Simon Birmingham has announced.
Up to 300 students from China, Hong Kong and Japan will travel from Singapore into Adelaide before undertaking the standard 14-day hotel quarantine.
The initiative is likely to be controversial given a cap on the number of Australians allowed to return home each week, and a ban on anyone bar citizens and permanent residents entering the country.
“We want to make sure that anything that happens in relation to international arrivals coming into Australia is done with the strictest of safety standards in place,” said Minister Birmingham.
“I also want to stress as well that no taxpayer dollars will be used in terms of supporting students flying into Australia or quarantining as is required.”
The government has long muted a scheme to return international students to Australia, however it was seemingly pushed back due to a second wave of coronavirus cases in Melbourne and a number of ‘clusters’ in Sydney.
It was initially assumed that Canberra would be the home of the first pilot program.
The decision to return international students will be controversial given the other, stringent restrictions on flights into Australia.
Currently, all Australian citizens, permanent and dual nationals are banned from leaving the country, and only citizens and permanent residents can arrive.
In July, the country then introduced a cap on the numbers allowed to return to Australia in any given day or week in order to stem the flow of people entering government isolation facilities. This was then extended until at least 24 October.
The current limits are:
- Melbourne – no international passenger arrivals;
- Sydney – 350 passenger arrivals per day;
- Perth – 525 passenger arrivals per week;
- Brisbane –500 passenger arrivals per week;
- Adelaide – 500 passenger arrivals per week;
“We look forward to, at some point, that might be able to be altered,” said Prime Minister Scott Morrison when announcing the extension. “But at this point, we are not going to put any further strain on the quarantine arrangements around the country and they will remain in place now for some months.”
Minister Birmingham insisted the pilot international program would not threaten the existing cap into SA.
“My understanding is that the cap into South Australia has not been reached,” he said.
“There continues to be quarantine capacity for those who can get a flight into Adelaide. There is no taxpayer support for the airfares or quarantine costs international students will face.”
Before the start of the pandemic, there were 500,000 international students in Australia, with many paying up to $30,000 a year to study. Some estimates have put the cost of losing international students at $3 billion to the higher education sector.