Australian state abandons arrival caps and quarantine

But student return still likely to be delayed as airport processes come up to speed

October 15, 2021
Source: iStock

International students’ hopes of entering Australia have been given another lift after its most populous state announced its intention to admit unlimited numbers of fully vaccinated travellers.

But questions remain over whether processes at the state’s airports, which are overseen by the federal government, will be able to accommodate the change.

New South Wales (NSW) premier Dominic Perrottet, who assumed the state’s top office in early October, said the new arrangements would apply from 1 November. He said the government had been able to ease restrictions on overseas travellers more swiftly than anticipated, with vaccination rates nudging 80 per cent of the domestic adult population.

“We have reached this vaccination milestone quicker than anyone thought we could,” he said, adding that the return of international visitors would be “a significant boost for the economy”.

NSW already has a federally approved plan to ramp up international education before the other states, through a pilot programme to bring in at least 500 students a month from December. The students will be processed manually on arrival to ascertain that they have been immunised with appropriately recognised vaccines.

Times Higher Education understands that any acceleration of arrivals would require an automated vaccine passport entry system, and that such a system is unlikely to be in place by 1 November. The Australian Border Force, which oversees airports and seaports, was still developing its automated processes earlier this month.

Addressing a Committee for Economic Development of Australia webinar on 1 October, commissioner Michael Outram said the smooth flow of overseas students and other travellers hinged mainly on the efficiency of procedures to test arriving passengers for Covid and validate their vaccination status. “Testing technologies, confidence in vaccination certificates, rapid antigen testing processes – they’re all part of the mix,” he said.

Prime minister Scott Morrison has also cast doubt on the NSW plan, telling a press conference that he supported only accelerated arrivals of Australian residents. The issuing of visas is a federal responsibility.

Mr Perrottet said further advice about testing requirements for arrivals would be “provided in the coming days”.

International Education Association of Australia chief executive Phil Honeywood said the NSW announcement was good news. But it was unclear how the “more laissez-faire border opening arrangement” would work alongside the pilot scheme, which requires students to quarantine in specially contracted facilities.

“Clearly, any initiative of the NSW government to further open the door for temporary visa holders is welcome,” Mr Honeywood said. “However, we desperately need clarification as to how this announcement fits with the need for the Border Force to fast-track its processes.”

Mr Perrottet has clarified his earlier remarks and indicated that quarantine-free arrival will only apply to Australian citizens, according to the ABC.

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