International students and professionals will be able to travel to Australia without exception starting next week in what Prime Minister Scott Morrison has described as a “major milestone” in the country’s return to normal.
From December 1st, fully vaccinated eligible visa holders – including students, professionals and people with humanitarian, working holiday and family visas – will no longer be required to travel exemptions for the first time since the borders were closed in early 2020.
A travel bubble operated for Singapore will also extend to Japan and South Korea, allowing these citizens, including tourists, quarantine-free travel, provided a negative Covid test is performed prior to departure.
Government figures show that there are approximately 235,000 eligible visa holders who could freely travel to Australia under the eased restrictions, including 162,000 international students.
The move comes amid ongoing calls from employment groups and the university sector to resume Australia’s temporary migration program that many sectors are relying on to address the skills shortage.
Morrison said the announcement would allow Australia to take full advantage of the economic recovery once the states emerge from the pandemic and workers across the country are “desperately needed”.
“It’s another win for Australians who have vaccinated, it’s another win for Australians who want to see Australia to return to a form of normalcy we once knew before this pandemic,” he said.
“The return of professionals and students to Australia is an important milestone on our way back. It is an important milestone in terms of what the Australians have been able to achieve and enable us to do. “
Morrison praised the country’s “exceptional” vaccination rate, with an 85 percent full vaccination rate for people over the age of 16 and 91.5% with one dose.
While Monday’s announcement will ease travel restrictions on a large number of visa classes, the government has not yet announced when an estimated 1 million tourists looking to travel to Australia will be given the same access.
“We’ll now see how we move on to this next phase,” said Morrison.
“I think the Australians are very interested in us taking this step-by-step approach. You have gone through a lot and sacrificed a lot to make sure we can open safely, so that we can stay open safely, and we will continue to do so. “
Home Secretary Karen Andrews said she expected around 200,000 visa holders subject to state quarantine regulations in the coming months, but said the government was “actively trying to bring as many people to Australia as we possibly can”.
The Prime Minister said the recent easing of restrictions was an example of “getting government out of people’s lives” amid an angry debate about the merits of “freedom” protests across the country.
Morrison has come under fire for apparently sympathizing with those who have gathered over the past week.
When challenged in his stance after previously advocating state bans and defying calls by NSW Prime Minister Dominic Perrottet to relax restrictions, Morrison said the federal government “had to make choices that are in life of the people had to do “.
“You have to deal with the situation as you find it and with the situation where a pandemic is raging, when people’s lives are at risk, you have to make decisions to protect those lives,” said Morrison.
“If circumstances change, it will be time for us to withdraw, which is what the national plan provides.
“So I’m just not buying this binary proposition that you’re somehow either for or against at every point in the cycle. Times change about it (cycle), circumstances change and governments that are interested in balanced, workable and sensible decisions will make them in the moment with the circumstances they have to face. “
He said there are extremes on both sides of the debate, but the vast majority of Australians are “only looking for people who make sensible decisions”.
Morrison also brushed aside the government split over vaccine mandates after a Senate vote on Monday morning resulted in five government senators crossing the floor in support of Pauline Hanson’s vaccine discrimination law.
“In the Liberal Party and the National Party we do not run them as an autocracy, we do not throw people out of our party if from time to time they disagree on an issue they feel strongly about. ” he said.
“I respect the fact that individual members from time to time express an opinion and vote accordingly, and that happened today.
“We are big parties, we can handle any disagreement that arises from time to time.”