Australia expects 200,000 vaccinated foreign students and skilled workers to soon return to the country.
The news comes as the government gears up to lift quarantining rules – relaxed pandemic restrictions will begin next week.
From 1 December, students, skilled workers and travellers on working holidays will be allowed to land at Sydney and Melbourne airports without needing to seek exemptions from a travel ban, according to Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
“The return of skilled workers and students to Australia is a major milestone in our pathway back, it’s a major milestone about what Australians have been able to achieve and enable us to do,” Morrison said.
Vaccinated citizens of Japan and South Korea will also be allowed in without quarantining, as well as people on humanitarian visas.
But the government has yet to decide when general tourists will be allowed to return.
“I think Australians are very keen to see us take this step-by-step approach,” added Morrison.
“They’ve been through a lot and they’ve sacrificed a lot to ensure that we can open safely so we can stay safely open,” he added.
While vaccinated travellers will be able to arrive without quarantining in Australia’s most populous states, New South Wales and Victoria, parts of the country with lower vaccination rates still impose pandemic restrictions at state lines.
After a troubled and faltering start, Australia’s vaccine rollout has gathered pace. More than 85 per cent of the population aged 16 and older is now fully vaccinated.
Australia first reopened its borders to quarantine-free travellers on 1 November after 20 months of some of the most draconian pandemic restrictions adopted by any democratic country. Arrivals were first restricted to Australian citizens and permanent residents.
The first flights in an Australia-Singapore quarantine-free travel bubble began on Sunday.
An absent seasonal workforce
Some Australian farmers have had to leave fruit and vegetables to rot in fields because the backpackers who provide the seasonal workforce of pickers have been absent.
Backpackers were some of Australia’s highest yielding visitors, spending 3.2 billion Australian dollars (€2 billion) a year before the pandemic. They also made up a substantial part of the seasonal workforce, Business Group Australia executive director John Hart said in a statement.
Universities Australia chief executive Catrina Jackson said her sector lost AU$1.8 billion (€1.1 billion) last year because foreign students were locked out.
“We’ve got 130,000 students waiting to get back into this country. They’ve been so patient and they’ve been so resolute. They’ve been studying online for … almost two years now,” Jackson told Australian Broadcasting Corp.
“Some of them have just got a year left of their degree. It really is time to get them back into the country so they can finish their degree and get on with their lives,” Jackson concluded.