NSW is to welcome international students in the next six to eight weeks under a pilot plan set to be rubber-stamped by the federal government.
The state’s Treasurer, Dominic Perrottet, said the program would see 250 students per fortnight quarantine in student accommodation, rising to 500 per fortnight by the end of the year.
Flights will initially be chartered before transitioning to commercial services.
The move is hugely significant for international aviation given, currently, only Australian citizens, permanent residents and a limited number of skilled visa holders are allowed to enter Australia.
Those who do enter are subject to a mandatory 14-day quarantine period, for which they have to pay up to $3,000.
Perrottet insisted that “not one returning Australian” will lose out on a plane ticket as a result of the plan.
“We will be running this alongside the 3,000 returning Australians that come into our hotel quarantine system every week,” he said. “This is a big win for the NSW economy.
“We believe that the cost to our economy since the pandemic began particularly related to the international students is around $5 billion and if we didn’t do anything that cost would grow by the end of next year to $11 billion.
“This is incredibly important because there is evidence particularly around the world in places like Canada, the US and the UK that are actively targeting this industry that NSW relies on so much.”
Treasurer Perrottet added the plan had been approved by both the state’s health and police services and would be signed off by the federal government imminently.
The quarantine system itself would be paid for by the university sector, but it would be up to individual institutions as to whether they passed the cost for flights onto individuals.
It comes as Australian Aviation reported last month that SA approved plans for Parafield Airport in Adelaide to be repurposed into a quarantine hub for international university students.
The students will reportedly remain isolated in groups of four at the facility, which contains several separated bungalows, and will be guarded throughout their quarantine period by SA Police.
Unlike the NSW plan, the SA alternative is yet to be certified by the federal government.
The return of international students would mark a hugely significant development for the lifting of Australia’s international borders.
The news came amid increasing worries over delays to Australia’s inoculation program, caused by a shift in policy to prioritise administering the Pfizer vaccine to under 50s rather than the Oxford vaccine that the country has in far greater supply. The British-created jab has been linked to blood clots in a very small number of recipients.
While numbers fluctuate, NSW is currently taking the vast bulk of returned citizens, with Sydney quarantine hotels now accepting 3,000 entrants per week. The next highest is Queensland, taking 1,000.