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International students under NSW’s pilot plan to return to Australia despite Omicron

International students returning to Australia
International students returning to Australia must be fully vaccinated with a Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) approved or recognised COVID-19 vaccination before landing in Sydney. Source: Adem Altan/AFP

International students returning to Australia had woken up to a rude shock on Monday when Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced that Australia would be delaying the reopening of its borders from December 1 to 15 over concerns about the Omicron COVID-19 strain. So, would this derail pilot plans to facilitate students’ return to the country?

New South Wales had previously announced that it would facilitate the return of some 500 international students into the state in December under the NSW International Student Arrivals Pilot Plan. According to Study NSW, the two existing flights scheduled to land in Sydney on December 6 and 24 are proceeding. 

“These flights are part of a separate travel exemption process, under the NSW International Student Arrivals Pilot Plan and aligned to the Australian Government Protocols and Preconditions for International Student Arrivals,” it said on its website. 

International students returning to Australia

NSW’s pilot plan would proceed in December. Source: Sonny Tumbekala/AFP

International students returning to Australia under NSW’s pilot plan: What we know

Study NSW notes that international students booked to return on flights under the NSW International Student Arrivals Pilot Plan will still travel to NSW on their scheduled flights. They add that existing flights provide a safe return path to NSW while the international travel situation remains fluid and spaces on commercial flights may remain limited.

The first chartered plane will land in Sydney on December 6 and carry over 250 students from over 15 nations, including Indonesia, Singapore, Vietnam, South Korea, China and Canada. A second flight carrying students from South Asia is due to arrive in Sydney on December 24.

International students returning to Australia must be fully vaccinated with a Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) approved or recognised COVID-19 vaccination before landing in Sydney.

Study NSW notes that from December 15, fully vaccinated eligible visa holders can travel to Australia without needing to apply for a travel exemption. “The NSW government will not require international students to quarantine on arrival,” it said, adding that this aligns with quarantine requirements for returning Australians.

“When preparing to travel, you should check what you need to do when leaving Australia or coming to Australia from overseas. International students who are returning under the NSW International Student Arrivals Pilot Plan will still travel to Sydney on their scheduled flights,” it said.

International students returning to Australia under Victoria’s pilot plan

Study Melbourne notes on its website that once the Australian government confirms that borders are open for international student visa holders, eligible fully vaccinated international student visa holders will no longer need to be part of the International Student Arrivals Plan to enter Victoria. 

“However, students who were selected by their university to participate in the plan are encouraged to keep in touch with their universities to finalise travel arrangements,” they said. International students can make their own arrangements to return to Melbourne instead of returning under the plan, provided the Australian government does not extend the paused reopening to international students.

International students returning to Australia

Here’s what we know about international students returning to Australia via NSW, Western Australia, Victoria and South Australia. Source: William West/AFP

International students returning to Australia via South Australia

Study Adelaide notes that South Australia will welcome fully vaccinated international arrivals — including international students — with no quarantine period once 90% of South Australians (aged 12+) are fully vaccinated. It is expected that the 90% target will be reached in late December 2021 or early January 2022.

International students are expected to return to South Australia from December 15. Those who have already received a travel exemption can still travel to Adelaide prior to December 15.

International students returning to Australia via Western Australia

Study Perth notes that Western Australia’s borders will be open to all fully vaccinated domestic and international arrivals without the need to quarantine once 90% of Western Australians (aged 12+) are fully vaccinated. This is expected to occur by late January or early February 2022.

“We are constantly seeking clarification and updates and will share further information as soon as it becomes available,” they said.