Border Updates for International Students

Since 20 March 2020 – around the time the global pandemic was really starting to accelerate – Australia’s borders have been closed to international visitors. Currently, only a few groups are exempt, including Australian citizens, residents, immediate family members, and travellers who have been in New Zealand for the previous 14 days.

Large-scale international travel to and from Australia is unlikely to go ahead in 2021, despite hopes for borders to reopen after the nationwide rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine.

In this article, we’ll break down the history of the border closures and provide regular updates so you know exactly what’s going on.

October 2021

8 October: It has been announced that international students will start returning to Victoria by the end of 2021 under the Victorian Government’s International Student Arrivals Plan, which has been submitted to the Commonwealth for approval. Under the first stage of the plan, 120 places will be available each week. These places will be prioritised for university students who urgently need to return to Victoria to do practical work, including health and medical students, and postgraduate research students.

1 October: Prime Minister Scott Morrison has announced the international border will reopen next month for states that have reached 80 per cent vaccination rates, starting with New South Wales. Fully vaccinated Australians and permanent residents arriving in NSW will be able to home quarantine for a week, instead of quarantining in a hotel for a fortnight, pending the success of the state’s home quarantine trial.

September 2021

24 September: The NSW International Student Arrivals Pilot Plan is announced. The plan will allow 250 international students studying with NSW education providers to return each fortnight from early December 2021. Click here for more information.

June 2021

18 June: A proposed quarantine hub that will allow international students to return to South Australia has been approved by the federal government. Education Minister Alan Tudge signed off on SA’s proposal after it met all of the Federal Government’s guidelines.

“The Flight Training Adelaide site at Parafield has been approved for its ability to meet infection control as determined by SA Health, with the facility able to house 160 students who will complete their 14 days quarantine and undertake daily COVID-19 testing,” shares The Minister for Trade and Investment Stephen Patterson.

10 June: NSW Treasurer Dominic Perrottet announced a pilot plan for as early as July, which will initially see 250 students per fortnight quarantined in specifically approved student accommodation. Mr Perrottet said that figure would increase to 500 students per fortnight by the end of the year. The student quarantine system, including travel costs, accommodation and security, will be financed by the university sector, but the decision of whether students must pay for their flights will be up to the individual university. The pilot program had been approved by NSW Health and NSW Police, but is currently with the federal government for a final decision.

May 2021

30 May: South Australia’s Chief Public Health Officer has approved a plan to bring back Adelaide’s international students by letting them serve two weeks’ quarantine at Parafield Airport, in the city’s north. This new plan still needs to be endorsed by the federal government.

11 May: As predicted, Australia’s 2021 budget revealed that Australia’s borders are likely to remain closed until the middle of 2022. After that, there will be a slow return of temporary and permanent visa holders. However, it was flagged that international students may be able to return earlier, as soon as late 2021.

9 May: Treasurer Josh Frydenberg claimed that international travel will remain off-limits until 2022. Speaking to SBS News, Frydenberg said, “We have an assumption in the budget that will be revealed on Tuesday night, but it will be next year.” 

April 2021

27 April: After the vaccine rollout started across Australia, talk of accepting international students began to take off. Victoria announced plans to start accepting international students from as early as May. Acting Victorian Premier, James Merlino, wrote to the Australian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, to say that it is Victoria’s intention to “accept the arrival of key international economic cohorts to support Australia’s economic recovery”.

8 April: In addition to this news, Victorian universities hit by the economic burden of international border restrictions discussed the possibility of helping to fund international students’ quarantine in Australia, as well as flights and medical testing. 

That being said, Australian Minister for Education and Youth, Alan Tudge, had this to say in response to the Victorian proposal: 

“We are open to considering a pilot of international students coming into Oz but only if (A) the quarantine beds are in addition to those used for returning Aussies; and (B) the state’s CMO [Chief Medical Officer] gives all clear. To date, we have received no such proposals,”

March 2021

31 March: The NSW Government plans to introduce alternative quarantine accommodation for international students in order to persuade the Australian Government to approve their return in time for the second half of the year. 

25 March: Tudge casts doubt on the return of Indian international students to Australia in 2021. He stated that the return of international students from India will depend upon the vaccine rollout, going on to say that

“My hope is that certainly from next year we will be starting to be close to being normal again and having significant numbers of international students to be returning, but there are a lot of ifs to get to that point in time.” 

14 March: While it was suggested that Singapore would be used as a ‘quarantine hub’ for international visitors travelling to Australia, the Singaporean Ministry of Foreign Affairs denied these claims. Although, the Ministry did say in a statement that Singapore is in discussions with Australia in order to resume international travel, with international students a priority for both countries.

2 March: The international border closure was set to end on 17 March 2021, but on 2 March, it was announced that it would remain in place for at least another three months, taking the border closure to 17 June 2021. 

February 2021

25 February: Australia’s Minister for Immigration, Alex Hawke, claimed that the Australian Government wasn’t going to grant visa extensions to Temporary Graduate visa holders (Subclass 485) to those currently not in Australia. 

January 2021

19 January: Despite the vaccine rollout in Australia, borders are set to be closed for the foreseeable future. Professor Paul Kelly, Australia’s Chief Medical Officer, claimed that Australia’s international border closures and obligatory quarantine would be “one of the last things” to change while other countries struggle to contain COVID-19. 

“[As] the first vaccinations rollout in a few weeks’ time, Australia is not going to change everything back to normal,” Professor Kelly said.

“We are in such an envious position at the moment compared with the rest of the world.

“Unfortunately, I think international border changes are probably going to be one of the last things to change, rather than the first.”

November 2020

30 November: Students flying to Australia as part of Charles Darwin University’s pilot program arrived in the Northern Territory to continue their studies. As a result, students from Vietnam, China, Hong Kong, Japan and Indonesia were the first international students to arrive in Australia since March 2020.

September 2020

19 September: In September, the Australian Government granted visa concessions to graduates affected by travel restrictions imposed as a result of the pandemic. These visa concessions allowed graduates to be granted a Temporary Graduate visa outside Australia in cases where the graduate met all the requirements. 

The concessions, though significant, did not have any effect on existing 485 visa holders stuck outside the country.

28 September: The Northern Territory Government negotiated a deal with the Australian Government and Charles Darwin University to run a pilot program to fly up to 70 international students to Darwin.

March 2020

On 20 March, Australian borders were closed to non-citizens and non-residents in order to limit the spread of COVID-19 into Australia.