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International students could return to Australia next month if states open their borders

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has told states they must open their borders to Australians, before they can accept international students.

Some international students could be allowed to return to Australia on a “pilot basis” as soon as next month but only if states agree to open their borders, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has announced.

Addressing the media after a national cabinet meeting with state and territory leaders on Friday, Mr Morrison said the federal government was working with states and territories to enable international students to return in a “very controlled setting” and only under pre-approved plans provided by institutions. 

But the Prime Minister made clear that if the states and territories wanted international students to return, they would have to “open up borders for Australians”.

“I made clear to the states and territories today, if someone can’t come to your state from Sydney, then someone can’t come to your state from Singapore,” Mr Morrison told reporters in Canberra.

New South Wales and Victoria, which are the only two states to not close their borders, have been pushing the federal government to allow students stuck overseas to return for semester two, which typically begins around the end of July to the start of August.  

Mr Morrison said some jurisdictions, including the ACT, had submitted “well-thought-through proposals”, but added the government was still “a little way away on being able to advance on those proposals”.

“This is something that I’m sure we would all welcome happening again, but it has to be done with the appropriate quarantine entry arrangements and biosecurity, and all of those matters, being addressed,” Mr Morrison said.

Australian universities have warned they are set to lose up to $16 billion in revenue over the next four years due to coronavirus travel restrictions.

Universities Australia Chief Executive Catriona Jackson welcomed the Prime Minister’s announcement and said opting for a trial program was “a sensible approach.”

“The gradual reintroduction of international students into Australia requires careful planning with coordination between universities, governments across jurisdictions, health authorities and other key stakeholders,” she said.

“A pilot is an important first step to a larger-scale return of our valued international friends in the future.”

Phil Honeywood, chief executive of the International Education Association of Australia, also welcomed the announcement but said the “devil will now be in the detail”.

“Will every state and territory government agree to sign up to a national approach? Or are we going to continue to have a patchwork quilt approach where certain states such as New South Wales, Victoria, and South Australia, have got first-mover advantage, while other states still decide what they’re going to do,” he said.

Under the pilot program, returning students who are part-way through an existing degree and already hold a student visa should be given priority, Mr Honeywood added.

Source – SBS news