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International students cleared to enter Australia beginning 15 December

Short on time? Here are the highlights:

  • The 15 December border opening plan for international students and some other visa holders will go ahead
  • Decision appears to reflect optimism on the part of the Australian government that the Omicron variant is less severe than previous variants
  • 250 international students – mostly from Asia – arrived on 6 December in New South Wales under a planned pilot and more are due to arrive on 24 December

On 15 December, Australia will go ahead with its plan to welcome back fully vaccinated international student and skilled worker visa holders; humanitarian, working holiday and provisional family visa holders; and tourists from Japan and South Korea – all despite the global spread of the Omicron variant.

The borders had been scheduled to open for these travellers on 1 December but the date was pushed back when news about the Omicron variant began to circulate and many governments began introducing new border restrictions.

Speaking to the press, Australian Health Minister Greg Hunt said, “That reopening is scheduled – we will be going ahead in consultation with the prime minister, the National Cabinet discussion, and the advice from the chief medical officer.”

The decision to open is informed by Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly’s optimism that Omicron is milder than other variants of COVID have been. Mr Kelly said in a press conference that international evidence is “showing clear signs of being milder…and that all of the vaccines continue to provide very clear coverage against serious illness, hospitalisation, and loss of life.” He continued,

“As a variant, it may well be milder. And that could turn out, as many international sources have indicated, to be a quietly positive development for the world.”

Other scientists aren’t quite so sure, pointing out that the relative mildness of Omicron in South Africa may be linked to the high percentage of South Africans who have either had COVID before or are vaccinated – leading to greater overall immunity and less serious infections. South Africa’s population is also relatively youthful, which is also linked to lower rates of hospitalisation.

Moving forward

Evidence about how worried or not worried we should be about Omicron is still coming in, but the 15 December border opening plan appears to be tied to a governmental shift from extremely cautious to carefully optimistic.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said in an interview,

“Our plan is to keep moving forward, not to go back. We’re not looking in the rear vision mirror, we’re not going back to what Australians have had to go through. We’re going to go forward and we’re going to live with this virus. And the reason we can do that is because of the decisions we’ve taken, the achievements that have been made in the vaccination programme, the strength of our economy, the resilience of our people.”

Western Australia to open to all travellers 5 February

Western Australian Premier Mark McGowan announced yesterday that the plans are to allow both Australians from other states and international travellers to enter Western Australia without quarantine from midnight on 5 February 2022.

250 students returned on 6 December

A planned pilot project to bring in about 250 international students from 15 countries including Indonesia, Singapore, Vietnam, South Korea, China and Canada to New South Wales (Sydney) went ahead on 6 December, with another flight due to arrive on 24 December. For more information other international student arrivals plans, please see this official government webpage as well as our own reporting on the various return plans across all Australian states and territories.

For additional background, please see:


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