From next month, Australia will reopen its borders to foreign students, skilled workers and holders of working holiday visas, the government announced on Monday easing its measures against the coronavirus.

Twenty months after Australia closed its borders, some visa holders, as well as Japanese and South Korean citizens, will be able to enter the territory from December 1. “Australia is reopening to the world,” Home Secretary Karen Andrews said in announcing the news, adding that it was “another step forward for Australia”.

Quarantine in some states

Australian citizens, visa holders and citizens of Japan, South Korea and Singapore will now be able to travel to the country with only a negative Covid-19 test before departure if they are vaccinated. However, some Australian states still require a quarantine on entry. Scott Morrison’s government lifted restrictions on overseas travel for Australians last month, sparking a boom in summer bookings from the southern hemisphere.

But he had adamantly refused to ease restrictions for non-Australians, a move that had stranded around 1.4 million qualified visa holders in Australia, with no possibility of return if they decided to leave the country. Professional groups and academia have been pushing for permission to re-enter visa holders with vaccines, as they scramble to fill the positions and prepare to enter a third year of restrictions.

Great news for students

According to Universities Australia, which represents the university sector, 130,000 international students are still out of the country. “They want nothing more than to join their classmates in Australia,” said group chief executive Catriona Jackson, who called the move “great news.”

The restrictions had raised concerns that many Asian students would choose to study face-to-face in the United States or Europe rather than paying for online courses based in Australia. No indication has yet been given as to the country’s reopening to tourism, a blow to the hard-hit sector, as the number of visitors has virtually collapsed since the border was closed in March 2020.

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