Australia will allow foreign visa holders to enter the country from the beginning of December, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Monday, the latest step in restarting international travel and supporting its economy.
Australia closed its international border in May 2020 and allowed only limited numbers of citizens and permanent residents to enter the effort to reduce the spread of Covid-19.
Laws were relaxed in recent weeks to accommodate foreign family members, and Morrison said this would be extended from December 1 to allow vaccinated students, business visa holders and refugees to arrive.
“The return of skilled workers and students to Australia is a milestone in our return journey,” Morrison told reporters in Canberra. Australia will also allow vaccinated tourists from South Korea and Japan from December 1, he said.
The return of foreign students, about A35 billion ($ 25 billion) a year into the Australian economy, will be a major boost to the education sector.
More than 235,000 foreign nationals, including about 160,000 students, applied for visas in Australia at the end of October, government data showed.
Many Australian universities rely on foreign students, who make up about 21% of their enrolled students, and the closure has led to higher education institutions laying off hundreds of staff.
Many students detained abroad in Australia say they will switch to other universities if they can start studying face to face in 2022.
Relaxation of border laws is also expected to alleviate the shortage of workers, which threatens to stagnate economic stability.
“This will be a great help to businesses that are struggling to find employees just to open doors and those who need special skills to open large projects,” said Jennifer Westacott, chief executive of the industry council.
Border laws, immediate closures and strict social reduction laws helped Australia keep its coronavirus levels significantly lower than most other comparable countries, with about 200,000 cases and 1,948 deaths.
Most of the new infections are being reported in the state of Victoria, with 1,029 cases entered on Monday. New South Wales, a Sydney suburb, has reported 180 cases. Some states and territories do not have Covid or have very few cases.