NSW pushes plan to bring international students to Australia using purpose-built quarantine
New South Wales is planning on bringing international students back into the state within months, using a 600-bed purpose-built quarantine site, only days after the federal government said students would not return in large numbers until 2022.
The state treasurer, Dominic Perrottet, has told the Australian newspaper that some students could return as early as semester two – which starts at most NSW universities in August.
Phil Honeywood, the chief executive of the International Education Association of Australia, confirmed the plan to Guardian Australia, and said that a 600-bed student accommodation site had been approved to be converted into quarantine.
Under the plan, returning international students would quarantine in purpose-built housing for 14 days. The student arrivals would be counted under a separate arrival cap and would not take away spaces from returning Australian citizens and other international arrivals.
Honeywood said the plan would aim to bring in a few hundred students for semester two to “prove the model”.
“It involves chartered flights rather than taking commercial seats off returning Australians,” he said. “It involves an alternative quarantine setting to hotels, which is what the prime minister is keen on.
“They are only going to start with small numbers to begin with, in the low hundreds, in order to prove the model,” he said.
He said the plan had been approved by NSW’s Department of Premier and Cabinet, and that the quarantine site – an existing, empty student accommodation building – had been inspected by both the government and police.
“Approval has been given for one of them, potentially two, to be used as the student return plan for quarantine,” he said.
Perrottet said on Thursday morning: “We are close to finalising a plan to start bringing back students very soon over the coming months, ideally for the start of the second semester this year.
“This is about finding a way to bring students back but not at the expense of the weekly cap of Australian citizens arriving back in NSW … If we don’t address this issue then I believe we’ll have an industry on its knees and one that will look elsewhere.”
However, the plan still would require the approval of the federal education minister, Alan Tudge.
In Tuesday’s budget the federal government said it did not expect Australia’s borders to open until mid-2022.
Budget paper No 1 said “small phased programs for international students” could start in late 2021 but numbers would not “gradually increase” until 2022.