The international students in Australian Universities have been facing many issues since the beginning of the covid-19 pandemic. While some cannot come back for offline classes, others are still stuck in Australia and could not go back to their home country. On August 24, 2020, it was reported that around 78% of the international students stayed back in the country. Those who stayed back without proper resources faced many hardships as they were not included in the Government’s financial and health support programs. However, some good news for them as the Australian Government has decided to include them in the country’s vaccine roll-out plan. This indicates that they will be eligible to get vaccinated once the vaccination drive begins in the country.
All you need to know
The Federal Health Minister, Greg Hunt, has opened up about Australia’s vaccine strategy. The goal is to reach out to as many people as possible to get them vaccinated. He mentioned that everyone on the ‘Australian Soil’ should be safe and have access to the protection, i.e., the vaccine.
Since the international students arrive from different parts of the world, the Federal Government has allocated around $1.3 million to multicultural organizations. They have been responsible for ensuring that vaccine information is communicated to various linguistically and culturally diverse groups.
The Government is planning to wrap up the vaccination program by October. This is an achievable goal as Australia is a sparsely populated country. Moreover, the vaccine will be provided free of cost to all the visa holders in the country. Those who fall under this category are temporary protection visa holders, refugees, and bridging visas and refugees. Even those currently present in the detention facilities will also get a chance to get vaccinated. However, only those who stayed back in the country are eligible to get vaccinated in Australia for free. The ones on eVisitor, Tourist, Electronic travel authority, and transit visa can get vaccinated in a user’s pay agreement.
Vaccination certificated for international students
Hunt has specified that even though the Government will run a strong campaign favoring vaccination, it is not mandatory to vaccinate. However, he has also made it clear that re-entry or entry through the border might depend on proof of immunization in the future in certain circumstances. This is particularly important as it has been previously suggested that international students might need a digital certificate regarding their vaccination status.
Alan Tudge, the Australian Education Minister, says that digital certification for vaccination can open up international borders for these students. In January 2021, this proposal was put forward by the minister. The primary reason for not being able to call back the international students is due to a lack of quarantine facilities. The priority of the Government lies with the Australian citizens. The international students can come back only when the stranded citizens of the country are back. The quarantine facilities are being kept for the incoming Australian Citizens.
Tudge mentioned that if the vaccines work against the virus and stop the disease from spreading, these digital vaccination certificates can come in handy. If the vaccines offer immunity against covid-19, then the vaccinated students do not have to quarantine. All they need is a vaccination certificate that is digitally connected to their passenger card.
Apart from the existing vaccines’ effectiveness, another challenge is to find out a method to link the vaccination certificates to the passenger cards.
Vaccination program in Australia
Just like other countries, Australia is chalking out an effective strategy for rolling out vaccines. Only two vaccines have been approved by the TGA (Therapeutic Goods Administration) in the country – Pzifer/BioNTech and the AstraZeneca/ Oxford vaccine. The Australian Government has also collaborated with COVAX. It is an international facility that will help at least 50% of the Australian population get vaccinated. It will help them to gain access to various kinds of vaccines that are currently available.
Australians will start rolling out vaccines from February 22, 2021. The Australian vaccination program can be broken down into five phases. Regardless of one’s citizenship or visa status, the vulnerable groups will be able to get vaccinated before others. Front line health care workers, border workers as well as quarantine workers will be getting vaccinated first. People employed in old-age care facilities and the members of such facilities will also join the ones mentioned above.
While plans are being made on vaccinating the international students who stayed back in the country, the Australian Government has finally made some significant decisions on calling back others. The Government has granted around 1000 exemptions to international students to help them come back. The ones who want to apply for the exemption need to present a ‘compelling case’ in front of the authorities. They will only be granted an exemption if they fall under the exemption categories. The categories are medical, nursing, or dental students who have two years left to complete their degree. It is also applicable to others who are pursuing an allied health degree from an Australian University.
Even though the Government is conveying the news about the vaccination program, there has been no news regarding deciding a plan of action to bring back the rest. The Government is developing no time frame for bringing back the others. Hunt has reportedly said that while the Government is eagerly waiting for these international students’ arrival, many various factors will have to be considered to ensure all Australian citizens’ safety.
The Australian Government’s health department’s website will put up information regarding the vaccine in 63 languages. The advertising campaigns for vaccination will be done in 32 languages. There would also be a vaccine explainer available in 29 languages.
While the vaccination program might speed up the Government’s decision to open up international students’ borders, nothing is certain till now. Since none of the existing vaccines is 100% effective in their clinical trials, the Government will ensure that they take other precautions.