International students stranded abroad have been banned from entering Australia for 551 days now. The country closed its borders on March 20 last year to all non-citizens and non-residents due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Since then, international students have repeatedly voiced concerns about the situation and urged competent authorities to give them permission to enter the country and continue in-person learning.
Students have even united under hashtags #LetUsBackToAus on social media, however, nothing has changed for these students yet, and many of them are considering moving to other countries to study due to Australia’s tough restrictions, Erudera.com reports.
When asked by Erudera about the possible return of international students in the country, a spokesperson for the Australian Department of Education said that the closure of borders has been critical to Australia’s success in slowing the spread of the COVID-19 virus, pointing out that bringing Australians home “especially vulnerable Australians” was the main priority of the Australian government.
“International students are an important part of the Australian community, and will be welcomed back to Australia, when conditions allow. The Australian government is working with states and territories to support international student arrivals when conditions allow,” the spokesperson told Erudera.
Despite lockdown, Australia has tried to bring international students back to the country through student pilot programs. South Australia became the first Australian state to have its overseas student return plan approved by the federal government in 2021, which plan would enable up to 160 international students to arrive in August on chartered flights and quarantine at Parafield Airport facilities for two weeks.
Nevertheless, the state failed to meet the deadline, with universities hesitating to move forward with the plan due to extra costs associated with it. In July this year, New South Wales also paused the plan over the return of international students until the state comes out of the lockdown. The pause on NSW’s international student return plan was supported by the Federal Education Minister Alan Tudge.
“International students add so much to South Australia’s multicultural fabric along with the clear economic benefits for our CBD and our state overall, with every three students leading to the creation of one job – in 2019, almost 20,000 jobs were underpinned by international education, which is massive for our state,” South Australia’s Premier, Steven Marshall had said.
As New South Wales now prepares to open its international borders, NSW and Commonwealth governments will initiate a home quarantine pilot in Greater Sydney as of next month. The pilot is expected to be operated and monitored by the NSW Health and NSW Police, and to trial a seven-day home quarantine program for 175 people.
“This is the next step in our plan to safely reopen, and to stay safely open. This could mean more families and friends being able to reunite more quickly, more business being able to be done here, and more workers for key industries being able to fill critical jobs,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said.
This year, Australian universities have hosted 210,000 fewer international students compared to prior years and have experienced the loss of AU$1.8 billion in income. Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics show that in January 2021, only 360 overseas students arrived in the country. Differently, within the same period in 2020, a total of 91,250 international students entered Australia.
Meanwhile, according to data from the Department of Education, Skills, and Employment, as of January 2021, nearly 164,000 international student visa holders were outside Australia.
A report released by the Mitchell Institute has pointed out that due to the decrease in the number of international students, Australian universities saw a 6 percent decline in revenue last year, compared to 2019. In 2019, international students contributed more than $40 billion to the Australian economy.
Universities Australia has projected a loss of $16 billion due to the drop in number of international students by 2023. Similarly, Mitchell Institute pointed out that universities might lose up to A$19 billion by 2023.
As their situation remains the same, international students have even warned of protests in front of the respective Australian embassies. According to a survey by the Council of International Student Australia (CISA), 93 percent of Australia’s students stuck overseas have reported mental health issues due to lack of in-person lessons.