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Market intelligence for international student recruitment from ICEF
23rd Nov 2021

Australia will open its borders to fully vaccinated international students on 15 December 2021

Short on time? Here are the highlights:
  • Fully vaccinated international students with valid visas will be allowed to enter Australia as of 15 December 2021
  • Whether students will be required to quarantine will be decided at the state rather than federal level – quarantine requirements remain in place in Queensland and South Australia

Editor's note: Australia's border opening for international students was originally planned for 1 December 2021. On 29 November, however, the Australian government announced that the opening date would be pushed back to 15 December 2021. "The temporary pause will ensure Australia can gather the information we need to better understand the Omicron variant, including the efficacy of the vaccine, the range of illness, including if it may generate more mild symptoms, and the level of transmission," explains a related statement from the Prime Minister's office.

Vague timelines for Australian borders opening to international students have been replaced by an official date: 15 December 2021. The Australian government announced this week that, as of that date, “skilled and student cohorts, as well as humanitarian, working holiday maker and provisional family visa holders” will be welcome to fly into Australia without needing to apply for a travel exemption – as long as they are fully vaccinated and able to show proof of negative COVID pre-departure tests. A full list of eligible visa classes can be found here.

The work of expanding flight services and clearing the considerable accumulated visa processing backlog will now begin in earnest. A related statement from the International Education Association of Australia (IEAA), points out that international flight services to Australia are still at less than 40% of pre-pandemic levels. “Some states/universities are now looking at booking charter flights to get good numbers of students back before [February 2022],” adds IEAA.

Domestic and international carriers will now also move to ramp up air services. Qantas Airlines, for example, is already adding flights for December in preparation for the surge in demand that will accompany the news. Direct flights from Delhi to Sydney and Melbourne – without a stop in a hub such as Singapore – are being planned. China and India have of course been the leading student markets for Australian educators for many years.

Tens of thousands will return within months

The news is expected to see more than 200,000 eligible travellers return to Australia over the course of the next two months, and many of those will have student visas. More than 85% of Australians are now fully vaccinated; the government had wanted to see a nation-wide rate of 80% before opening borders and that milestone has now been exceeded.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said in a 22 November press briefing,

“From next month we will welcome back students and start looking to (bring back) the skilled workers that are needed to ensure we are able to take full advantage of the economic recovery that we are working to secure.”

Universities Australia Chief Executive Catriona Jackson added:

“This is great news which will give heart to more than 130,000 international students with visas waiting to return to Australia. They want nothing more than to re-join their classmates in Australia. We look forward to further detail so we can work quickly to get students back for first semester next year.”

Approved vaccines

To enter Australia, visa-holding international students must provide proof that they are fully vaccinated with one of the following TGA-approved vaccines to enter the country – but check the TGA webpage regularly for any updates to the list:

  • Comirnaty (Pfizer)
  • Vaxzevria (AstraZeneca)
  • Covishield (AstraZeneca)
  • Spikevax (Moderna)
  • Janssen-Cilag (Johnson & Johnson)
  • Coronavac (Sinovac)
  • BBIBP-CorV (Sinopharm) (for 18-60 years old)
  • Covaxin (Bharat Biotech)

Students must also show proof of a negative COVID-19 Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test taken within three days of departure.

Many won’t have to quarantine

Depending on which state they are travelling to, students may or may not have to quarantine. Universities Australia says that while there are unique state and territory quarantine rules for returning students, “we are seeing an increasing trend towards no quarantine for fully vaccinated students.”

For an outline of states’ policies, please visit our previous report on Australia’s border opening plans.

Australia-Asia tourism bubble grows

In other news, fully vaccinated South Korean and Japanese tourists will also be able to enter Australia without quarantine starting 1 December, joining the current tourism “travel bubble” with Singapore.

The challenge of regaining market share

Opened borders will naturally relieve stakeholders in Australia’s international education sector, who have had to endure months of watching students who would normally have chosen Australia as their top destination turn to Canada, the UK, and the US instead. The chart below is from IDP’s student demand tracker and shows that students are searching for “Australia” far less frequently than the other leading destinations this fall – mainly because of borders having been closed for so long.

IDP search volumes for leading study destinations, September 2019–October 2021. Source: IDP Connect

ABC News reports that Universities Australia is predicting a $2 billion loss in revenue this year for the international education sector, following a $1.8 billion loss in 2020.

Universities Australia Chief Executive Catriona Jackson notes that international students contribute much more than dollars to the country:

“The value of international students to Australia is more than just the impact they have on the economy and employment, though their $31 billion annual economic contribution and support for 250,000 jobs is important. These students are the future corporate and political leaders of our nearest trading partners. They make an enormous contribution to Australia’s influence in the world.”

As we have reported over the course of this fall, recent conference sessions have demonstrated a commitment among Australia’s educators to innovative strategies for attracting international students back to the country going forward.

Must-have information

Agents and students making their way back to Australia should check the Study Australia website, which includes a Student Arrivals, Travel and Visas section and a travel and pre-departure checklist.

For additional information, please see:

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