Another blow for Australia’s international students hoping to return to Australia with Prime Minister Scott Morrison announcing they’ll have to get in line behind 35,000 stranded Australians waiting to come home.
Speaking after the National Cabinet meeting, Morrison said his government’s priority is to get citizens back home and with strict flight caps and mandatory 14-day quaratine on arrival, resources are stretched to the limit.
“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”.
Morrison also said there’s no way that quarantine will be bypassed for anyone. “That is not an option that either the Commonwealth or indeed the premiers and chief ministers are prepared to contemplate because the inherent risks are there.
“I wish it were not so but it is so and that makes it very difficult to say when we’ll be in a position for more of those students to come in the future.”
He acknowledged the frustrations felt by students and Australia’s higher education sector, which is facing losses of up to $4.8 billion this year alone.
The PM acknowledged that the education minister is continuing to work with states and territories and the university sector to get plans in place.
“The frustration at the moment is we hoped to be further ahead on this now but the fact is, there are many Australians in vulnerable situations and they’re seeking to get home and that must take priority and I’m sure the uni sector will understand that”.
Despite the hard-line on international arrivals, Morrison confirmed the planned pilots to return small numbers of international students will go ahead as planned.
Each pilot is required to have approval from the state government where the university is located and the federal government. So far South Australia and the Northern Territory have approved pilots in place.
A spokesperson from NT’s Charles Darwin University confirmed they will start bringing students back within weeks. “CDU remains committed to being the first university in Australia to pilot a program which will see international students return to the country. The pilot flight is almost at full capacity and is set to arrive in Darwin on 30 November.”
Last week, New South Wales ministers and heads of universities announced they’ll be pushing for larger-scale returns from early next year.
Morrison said he’ll review the situation before the end of the year but can’t give a guaranteed timeframe.
“I can’t give a commitment to the states that we’d be in a position to allow any…… broader entry of international students at this time. But we’ll look at it again in several weeks.”