When Covid-19 began to spread, Australia closed its borders to noncitizens, including international students. Unlike in the United States, where travel restrictions began to be imposed after most colleges had resumed classes, the Australian shutdown occurred just as universities there began their academic year, in late February and early March.
As a result, many international students, new and continuing alike, were stuck outside the country. There they remain.
Universities had hoped students would be allowed in by early 2021. But last week Prime Minister Scott Morrison dashed those hopes. More than 30,000 Australians remain abroad, and strict re-entry rules and overtaxed quarantine facilities can’t accommodate them. International students, the prime minister said, will have to wait.
“Sadly, that will delay any ability to be bringing international students to Australia soon because we must use every available place to get Australians home,” he said. “This is a question of priorities and our priorities must be to look after Australian citizens and residents first.”
If the border restrictions remain in place into next year, Australia could lose half of its pre-pandemic international enrollments, according to the Mitchell Institute for Education and Health Policy
, a think tank based at Victoria University. The cost to the country’s economy could be nearly $16 billion.
Why talk about Australia? Because Covid is truly global. Issues like political leadership, visa policy, and work rules for international students are country-specific, and so the challenges America faces are often ours alone. But the coronavirus knows no boundaries. All host countries have had to craft international-student policy in the wake of Covid, each with its own implications.
A recent survey
by IDP Connect found growing frustration among current and prospective international students about continued border closures in Australia and neighboring New Zealand.
Other countries, like Canada, have exempted overseas students from entry restrictions, but there are complaints that some provinces have been slow to approve Covid-readiness plans for universities and English-language programs, delaying students’ return.