Hundreds of international students will start returning to NSW by the end of this year, although vaccine restrictions will mean students from key markets in China and Nepal are not likely to be among them.
NSW Treasurer Dominic Perrottet confirmed the plan to restart the state’s critical international higher education sector had been finalized and would form part of the state’s road map to reopening after the Delta outbreak.
“NSW will have a first-mover advantage compared to the rest of the country,” Mr. Perrottet said.
“We have the best universities in Australia, and now we are going to be the sole market for international students.”
Mr. Perrottet had been working on a plan to bring back international students for about 12 months, but it was thrown into disarray with the Delta outbreak.
He said “tens of thousands of people in NSW rely on the international student market for work” and the restart of the industry would “also address the rising issue of labor shortages in the state.”
University vice-chancellors were in final talks on Thursday to discuss logistics, including quota sharing arrangements, as NSW Treasury officials ironed out the details of a plan to be announced on Friday.
A government source said the Indian market was one of the top priorities for the NSW government as part of its new trade and investment strategy.
Mr. Perrottet is also working with universities on a strategy to bring back students from China and Nepal.
Deputy Premier and Minister for Industry and Trade John Barilaro said the staggered return of students was stage one of a pilot that would slowly expand and evolve, as vaccination rates continue to rise in NSW and internationally.
“The international education sector sustains thousands of jobs across NSW, and I’m proud that NSW is leading the way with the return of international students to our shores,” Mr. Barilaro said.
“The safety of the people of NSW is paramount and we are taking no risks. All participating students will be required to be fully vaccinated with a TGA-recognised COVID-19 vaccine, and strict quarantine protocols will be in place.”
The plan will initially require all inbound international students to be fully vaccinated with Therapeutic Goods Administration recognized vaccines including Pfizer, Johnson and Johnson, Moderna, and AstraZeneca.
This means students from countries including Singapore, Thailand, the US, Malaysia, Hong Kong, and Japan are among those who will be initially allowed entry.
However, students vaccinated with Sinovac or Sinopharm, including those from China and Nepal, will not be able to travel to NSW for their studies.
While the numbers of students set to return from next month will be limited to the hundreds, universities hope a message will be sent to international students about Australia’s willingness to welcome them back.
The NSW government has been anxious that delays to international students returning to NSW could see the state lose students to competitors, such as Canada or the UK.
NSW universities have discussed quotas based on their 2019 enrolment numbers and all international students will be required to quarantine in purpose-built student accommodation.
Charter flights will be used until international travel arrangements open up again.
NSW Treasury invited expressions of interest earlier this year for purpose-built student accommodation based in the Sydney CBD or its fringe “with a view of forming a panel of eligible providers to house international students coming into NSW for the 14-day quarantine period”.
Mr. Perrottet said at the time that the NSW government was looking at ways to ensure it has “the capability and processes in place to allow international students to return safely when restrictions allow”.
“At this stage, we are examining options, and part of that is looking at how we can bring international students back without reducing our capacity to take Australian citizens wanting to return home,” he said.
International education contributed $37.6 billion to the Australian economy and $14.6 billion to NSW in 2019.
Mr. Perrottet told the Herald in June that international students studying medicine and health-related degrees and those close to finishing their studies will be given priority to return to NSW universities under a long-awaited rescue plan.
For more information on MSA Immigration’s visa services to Australia please click HERE.