In the midst of the pandemic, over 1,000 international students have obtained exemptions to return to Australia, with medical students being part of the cohort, news.com.au reported. Figures obtained by NCA NewsWire reveal that 1,050 foreign nationals have been granted an exemption to enter the country by the Australian Border Force Commissioner since the start of August.
An Australian Border Force spokeswoman was quoted as saying that those seeking an exemption must provide evidence of a ‘compelling case’ and satisfy exemption categories, including students in their final two years of study of a university degree in medical, dental, nursing or allied health profession. They must also have a confirmed placement that starts within the next two months at an Australian hospital or medical practice.
In the Group of Eight (Go8), one university had at least half of its 65 international medical students granted a travel exemption, the report said. Australia’s leading research-intensive universities are comprised of Go8. Chief executive Vicki Thomson said the universities had provided supporting evidence for students that met the exemption criteria, adding that some 600 international graduates entered the work force every year, but COVID-19 had caused serious disruptions.
Rural, regional and remote communities were heavily reliant on Australian medical school graduates from overseas students. “If medical students can’t get back to the country, then in the next few years, this will affect the pipeline of new doctors into the system,” Thomson said. “A shortfall will occur.” There was also a risk that if they postponed their studies now, the internal system would not be able to deal with international students’ influxts when they returned. In the meantime, a spokesman for Universities Australia said some PhD students may have received exemption because at they have to return to their degree to complete critical research.
Return to Australia by a skilled force sparks backlash from some quarters
Some anger was sparked by the decision to allow a small number of international students to return to Australia. New South Wales Labor Senator Kristina Keneally argued thaf Prime Minister ScotMorrison’s priorityon should be to return the 40,000 Australians stuck abroad rather than “letting visa holders jump the queue for international students and business investors.” “If, from the beginning of this pandemic, Scott Morrison had implemented a national quarantine plan, Australia would be able to safely welcome international students without their arrival at the expense of stranded Australians,” she was quoted as saying.
The government was also criticised, The Guardian reported, for allowing British pop star Rita Ora to enter Australia before filming for her role as a coach on The Voice. Phill Honeywood, CEO of the International Education Association of Australia (IEAA), tweeted last month his dismay that the government did not allow a small number of international students to enter the country, but “is relaxed for a few weeks about tennis, cricket players and their associates coming here.”
“Honeywood, speaking to news.com.au, welcomed the limited travel exemptions made available, but acknowledged that the country is “still far behind rival nations such as Canada, the United Kingdom and New Zealand. Healthcare-related courses such as nursing degrees are popular among South Asian international students, while students from all over the world were attracted by dentistry and medicine. It is also understood that high commissions have written supporting letters for applications for student exemptions, the report said.
For close to a year, international students have been campaigning for their return to Australia. Over 17,000 people have signed a petition addressed to the House of Representatives calling for international students’ exemption from Australia’s COVID-19 travel border restrictions. International students are prepared to quarantine, follow any laws and pay all the fees. In student apartments, we are willing to quarantine and will not take any locations of stranded Australians. Please allow international students who do not have online lessons and need to enter Australia urgently to study, to return to their schools and to continue their education on a voluntary basis,’ it reads.