A pilot plan first announced in June has been given the green light by the Commonwealth Government to see the phased return of international students, but Indian students might still find themselves waiting in line.
As per the first phase of the plan, 500 international students will be able to return on chartered flights, paid for by them, by the end of the year. The students must be fully vaccinated.
The announcement does not address the elephant in the room regarding the vaccine status of students who have received Covaxin, India’s indigenous vaccine. Even travellers with Covishield, the Indian-made version of the AstraZeneca vaccine and the country’s primary vaccine, have faced issues with international travel, most recently in entering the United Kingdom.
Under the national reopening plan, Australians will be able to undertake overseas travel once 80 per cent of people over 16 have been fully vaccinated. The vaccines currently approved by Australia are AstraZeneca, Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson and Johnson vaccines.
“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. Importantly, this plan will not come at the expense of any Australian citizen or resident wishing to return home,” said John Barilaro, Deputy Premier and Minister for Regional New South Wales, Industry and Trade.
The students are expected to complete a 14-day quarantine in Redfern with accommodation provider Scape. Education institutes partnering with the pilot plan include Australian Catholic University, Macquarie University, The University of Newcastle, The University of Sydney, UNSW, UTS, University of Wollongong and Western Sydney University.
“After over 18 months of planning, we are delighted that both the Australian and NSW Government are supportive of a pilot plan for an incremental reopening of our borders to our international students,” stated Professor Barney Glover AO, Governor of the NSW Vice-Chancellors’ Committee.
Students will be contacted by participating education providers for expressions of interest for the pilot plan. It remains to be seen if these will include Indian students.
As per federal government data, Indian enrolments at Australian universities saw a 43 per cent decline for commencing students and 21 per cent for total enrolments.
Earlier this year, the Australian High Commissioner to India, Barry O’Farrell, had addressed the concerns of Indian students enrolled at Australian universities in a webinar arranged by the Australia India Institute: “Whilst there are concerns expressed about the impact of border closures on our prospects, we are in no confidence here that once borders reopen, those students would continue to flow into Australia.”
When NSW’s pilot plan had first been announced in June, Indian Link had reached out to NSW Health for clarity on vaccination status and were told at the time to “to “redirect (these) queries to the Commonwealth Government”. With the pilot plan now formally approved, it remains to be seen if these questions will now be answered.
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