[Almost] Relief for International Students Stuck Abroad and in Australia
By Tom Kersten
Nearly 19 months after Prime Minister Scott Morrison closed Australia’s International Borders, on October 1, Morrison declared “It is time to give Australians their lives back”, announcing the re-opening of the International borders from November contingent on the vaccination levels in states and territories. The move will likely allow international students to return to Australia from 2022.
Morrison applauded the “remarkably successful” vaccination rates within the country as the reason “Australia [can get] ready for take off.”
While at first inbound travel will be restricted to Australian Citizens and Permanent Residents, it is expected that sometime early next year International Students will be allowed to return to the nation, although Morrison said this could be “perhaps sooner.”
An ANU spokesperson told Observer the university is “looking closely at what Australia’s border reopening means for our community and operations.”
“We are very keen for our international students to return home to ANU as soon as they are able [to].”
The University confirmed they are working with ACT and Federal health & government authorities on the return of international students.
In welcome news for many international students, both the Chinese Sinovac and Indian Covishield vaccines will be recognised by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA). This means that students who are vaccinated with these vaccines will be allowed into the country once restrictions are lifted.
However, not all students are convinced they will be allowed into Australia anytime soon.
One student, who in August told Observer that he would wait no longer than semester one 2022 to make the tough decision between continuing studies at ANU or moving to another country, said the recent announcement gave him some hope.
“Being a student who is in a country with high double dose vaccination rates and low COVID-19 cases, I’m hopeful I’ll be allowed to come to Australia soon,” he said.
Despite his hope, he admits “There hasn’t been a clear announcement of when people on student visas will be allowed in.”
The student continued, saying that “having learnt from the past we aren’t high up on the pecking order so we can’t assume it to be a certainty that we will be back [by] next semester.”
ANUSA Gen-Rep Isha Singhal who is currently in India is cautiously optimistic about the situation saying “I think the shift in attitude is generally towards opening up.”
However, Singhal admits the upcoming federal elections and the ever-changing nature of the pandemic make it “a bit of a wait and watch situation.”
Pavan Idnani, who lives in Thailand, told Observer in August he was very disappointed in Australia’s border situation, and said he was strongly considering a move to a different university.
Despite the most recent border announcement Idnani is of the firm position that he is “transferring to America regardless of the borders reopening or not.”
He said the decision is mainly due to classes in America all being face to face, along with the assumption the United States “will never go into lockdown.”
The addition of Idnani having family in America makes it a “safe option” he concluded.
Second-year student Astor Lee said she feared “the case spike after reopening will lead to the government regretting their decision and close the borders again.”
Lee, who is from Hong Kong, has been in Canberra since she started her degree in February 2020 having not seen her family since then.
She highlighted the fact that International Students before the pandemic “got to get used to not seeing family for a long time.”
“But I dove straight into not seeing them for 18 months” Lee said, admitting that is “quite hard.”
Lee said she still has an ultimatum to make, choosing family or in-person classes.
“It’s the tough decision of finally seeing my family again or having face to face studying again.”
The practical face-to-face nature of her degree is a contributing factor which will lead to her decision. “I value studying face to face a lot, and my degree is quite field-based, especially in later years”, Lee said.
With the added fear that borders might suddenly close after opening Lee says it’s quite a “dilemma I’m facing.”
Another uncertainty Lee noted is the prospect of borders suddenly closing at any point.
Both Monash and La Trobe University have made vaccinations mandatory on their campuses, with a number of other universities reportedly considering following suit. However, ANU currently has no plans to implement any mandates, with a spokesperson saying “we hope to achieve 95% full vaccination among our community.”
“We seem to be on track to reach that goal through a proactive communications and education campaign led by our public health experts,” the spokesperson said.
Graphics by Mady Hall