Australia: Long-awaited international student return plan arrives

In recent weeks there has been a flurry of announcements from Australian states and territories. New student return pilot programs have been approved, and we now see a variety of deadlines and arrival protocols for incoming students in the coming months to be able to study in Australia.

If you’ve been struggling to keep up with the latest news, we hope you find the following summary useful.

Before we begin, some other important elements for context.

Firstly, the Australian academic year – for higher education institutions – is generally structured around two semesters, starting in February or March (depending on the institution) and July and August. The Australian pre-school and secondary education system follows a four-term calendar beginning in January, April, July and October.

Second, the Australian government has expanded its list of approved COVID vaccines in recent months. As of November 17, the vaccines approved by the Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) are:

Comirnaty (Pfizer)
Vaxzevria (AstraZeneca)
Covishield (AstraZeneca)
Spikevax (Modern)
Janssen-Cilag (Johnson & Johnson)
Coronavac (Sinovac)
BBIBP-CorV (Sinopharm) (for 18-60 years)
Covaxin (Bharat Biotech)

To be considered fully vaccinated, arriving travellers must have received two full doses at least 14 days apart (or one dose of Janssen-Cilag/Johnson & Johnson vaccine), and must have completed their course of vaccination at least seven days before arriving in Australia.

Finally, vaccination rates within Australia, which had lagged earlier this year, are beginning to increase more rapidly. By mid-November 2021, approximately 70% of eligible Australians are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.


Australian Capital Territory
Capital: Canberra

The Australian Capital Territory (ACT) announced on 22 October that it will welcome back fully vaccinated international higher education students for the start of the 2022 academic year.

Returning students will have to meet all Australian government vaccination and testing requirements, but will not have to pass quarantine.

“It’s great to have clarity on the arrangements in the Australian Capital Territory and to know that, as soon as the borders open, our students will be able to come straight back to campus,” said Brian Schmidt, vice-chancellor of the Australian National University (ANU). “We will continue to work with the Commonwealth on arrangements to open the borders to students as soon as Australia can safely do so.”


New South Wales
Capital: Sydney

The New South Wales (NSW) government announced Nov. 12 that vaccinated students will be able to return to the state without quarantine.

The first chartered plane of returning students under the New South Wales International Student Arrival Pilot Scheme will land in Sydney on Monday 6 December. That flight will carry about 250 students from more than 15 countries, including Indonesia, Singapore, Vietnam, South Korea, China and Canada.

“This is an important milestone on our roadmap to recovery and I look forward to welcoming such an important part of our community,” said Prime Minister Dominic Perrottet. “Not only do they make a significant contribution to our economy, but international students play a role in our culture and contribute to our community and lifestyle.”


Capital: Brisbane

On October 26, Queensland’s Minister for Tourism, Innovation and Sport, Stirling Hinchliffe, announced that the state will once again welcome international students in early 2022. All incoming students must spend a two-week quarantine in a designated facility.

In the first phase of the Queensland Student Inbound Plan, students who continue on to Queensland universities will return to complete their studies. The scheme gives priority to those studying medicine, medical research and allied health disciplines. The state envisages a phased approach, with eligibility criteria for education providers and students, and the number of places, expanding in each phase.

“While distance learning has made it possible for students to continue their university studies in Queensland from their home countries, we recognise that it is not a sustainable, long-term substitute for face-to-face tutorials and practical experience. We also know that international students make an important contribution to the culture of Queensland cities and our regions,” Minister Hinchliffe said.


South Australia
Capital: Adelaide

The South Australian government has announced that the state will welcome fully vaccinated nationals and internationals (including international students) without a quarantine period once 90% of South Australians (over 12 years of age) are fully vaccinated.

The 90% target is expected to be reached by the end of December 2021.

Study Adelaide provides regular updates and additional background information on its website.


Capital: Hobart

Tasmania has also announced its reopening roadmap, where all vaccinated international travellers will be able to enter without going through quarantine from 15 December. All arriving travelers must present a negative COVID-19 test.


Capital: Melbourne

Victoria has also approved a pilot program for the safe return of students, for which students must complete a 14-day quarantine. The first charter flights with returning students are expected in December 2021.


Western Australia
Capital: Perth

The State Government has announced that Western Australia (WA) will welcome back fully vaccinated international students in time for the start of the new academic year in February 2022.

The official reopening date will be set once Western Australia reaches a vaccination rate of double 80%, which is expected to occur in December 2021.

Meanwhile, Education Minister Sue Ellery has confirmed that the government envisages a reopening date of late January or early February 2022, which “would allow eligible international students to arrive in time for the first semester of 2022 or begin any required English or other preparatory courses before the second semester.”


Northern Territory
Capital: Darwin

International Education Minister Nicole Manison announced this month that the territory is preparing a plan for approval by the national government. If confirmed, the plan will see chartered flights land students returning to the territory in January 2022.

“International students make a huge contribution to the territory’s economy, with each student bringing in an average of A$40,693 each year,” the minister told ABC News. “By providing a pathway for international students to return to the territory and Australia, we are helping to diversify the economy, grow our population and support local jobs.”


It’s time to do your English course in Australia you’ve been waiting for.