New Year and Christmas theme decorations are seen in Melbourne, Australia on Tuesday. Victoria and the state capital, Melbourne, where coronavirus caused the highest number of deaths and cases in Australia, completed their New Year’s preparations to normalize life in the city center where the virus hit. Photo: AFP
Australia announced on Monday that it will reopen to foreign students and skilled workers from December, easing some of the world’s most stringent COVID-19 pandemic travel restrictions.
Twenty months after Australia slammed shut its borders, some visa holders – as well as Japanese and South Korean citizens – will be able to enter from December 1.
“Australia is reopening to the world,” said Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews as she announced the news, adding it was “yet another step forward for Australia.”
The government of Prime Minister Scott Morrison lifted restrictions on Australians traveling overseas in October, sparking a flood of travel bookings for the southern hemisphere summer.
But Morrison – who is hoping to be reelected in 2022 – had pointedly refused to relax travel rules for most non-Australians.
That decision left an estimated 1.4 million skilled visa holders stuck in Australia due to the pandemic, unable to return if they decided to leave.
Business groups had lobbied hard for vaccinated visa holders to be allowed to return, as they struggle to fill jobs and gird for the beginning of a third year of restrictions.
Among those most vocal in calling for rules to be further relaxed was the beleaguered university sector.
According to Universities Australia, an industry group, 130,000 international students remain outside the country.
“They want nothing more than to rejoin their classmates in Australia,” said the group’s chief executive Catriona Jackson, who described the decision as “great news.”
There had been fears that many Asian students would opt to study in person in the US or some Europe countries rather than pay for online…