In March 2020, when the pandemic first went global, many countries implemented border restrictions in an effort to mitigate the overwhelming spread of the contagious virus that not many fully understood.

At the time of writing in early 2022, the global pandemic is still top of mind. It continues to cause supply chain issues, countless variants and a seemingly endless supply of policy changes. However, international students have also been affected. Students looking to study in Australia have been unable to do so until only recently.

Australia made its way into international headlines by having some of the most strict pandemic protocols in the world. While each Australian state managed the pandemic differently and had a different experience overall, international borders to the country were closed for almost two full years. 

For many local Australians, these international border restrictions didn’t affect their everyday lives. However, these border restrictions were a challenge for expats, those with family abroad, and international students in Australia.

We explore international students’ return to Australia and what it means to study abroad in Australia during the global pandemic.

Lifting restrictions at the international borders

On December 15, 2021, Australia lifted its strict international border restrictions to re-welcome international students. 

However, it soon became clear that there are certain indications suggesting disparities in overall student mobility. The result is a divided international student community which could have long-lasting effects post-pandemic.

Plus, there’s always the looming possibility of border restrictions becoming reinstated in Australia with the appearance of new variants. 

While the Australian government has assured Australians that lockdowns are a thing of the past, it makes sense that international students might choose to study elsewhere to avoid any more policy changes. This could have far-reaching negative effects on Australia’s international education systems. 

Furthermore, even as Australia continues lifting restrictions, international students have either been locked in, locked out or left out completely. Others have gotten lucky in the process, but not many.

For example, from 2019 to 2020, Australian enrolments from Malaysia went down 14.2% and those from India went down 12%. However, the overall international student enrolment average only went down 5.1% in total. 

Additionally, in states like Victoria which saw the strictest lockdowns and border restrictions, international student enrolment went down 9% whereas other states actually saw an increase. 

Although it’s hard to say for certain what has caused these disparities, it’s without a doubt that the global pandemic and border restrictions had a negative effect on international students in Australia.

Challenges faced by international students in Australia

Those who are “locked in” are the international students who were already in Australia to study abroad and were unable to access the financial support that was offered to citizens and permanent residents. 

Those who were “locked out” are those in countries that either have not been vaccinated or those who received vaccines that aren’t recognised by the Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) such as the Sputnik V vaccine in Russia or the Sinopharm vaccines in China. 

Not to mention, the timeline of the international vaccine rollout has varied drastically, and not all countries and communities have had as much access to the vaccine. This disparity could prevent these students from taking advantage of educational opportunities in Australia.

Those who’ve been “left out” completely are those who dropped out of the Australian education system due to the stress of the pandemic or who suffered from the total lack of support during lockdowns and other systemic issues. 

This leaves the “lucky” ones, the international students who have been given priority under these extreme circumstances. These students are either in their final year of study or those who need to complete compulsory practical components of their degree.

It’s hard to say with any degree of certainty how these border restrictions will affect Australia’s international study systems. But for now, it seems to have definitely caused challenges for international students in Australia and those who wish to study abroad in Australia in the future.

Do I need to be vaccinated to study in Australia?

Yes, if you’re an international student in Australia, you are required to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19

However, every state issues its own rules and regulations. As protocols continue to change, it’s important to seek the most up to date information regarding vaccination for international students in Australia.

Check out the Department of Home Affairs website for more details. Here, we’re exploring an overview on the basics of how each state is handling international students.

Queensland

No travel exemptions requiredAble to make your own travel arrangementsHold a valid student visaTravel directly into Queensland or arrive via another stateEnsure compliance with requirements upon your arrival into Queensland including quarantine or post-arrival testing protocolsBe aware that protocols may change with little or no noticeComplete both the Queensland International Arrivals Registration form and the Australan Travel DeclarationRequires full vaccination as approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA)Requires proof of vaccination statusRequires negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours prior to your arrival into Queensland

New South Wales

No travel exemptions requiredAble to make your own travel arrangementsHold a valid student visaTravel directly into NSW or arrive via another stateEnsure compliance with requirements upon your arrival into NSW including quarantine or post-arrival testing protocolsBe aware that protocols may change with little or no noticeComplete the Australian Travel DeclarationRequires full vaccination as approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA)Requires proof of vaccination statusRequires negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours prior to your arrival into NSWSelf-isolation is required for 24 hours upon arrival until negative COVID-19 PCR is obtained

Victoria

No travel exemptions requiredAble to make your own travel arrangementsHold a valid student visaTravel directly into Victoria or arrive via another stateEnsure compliance with requirements upon your arrival into Victoria including quarantine or post-arrival testing protocolsBe aware that protocols may change with little or no noticeComplete the Australian Travel DeclarationRequires full vaccination as approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA)Requires proof of vaccination statusRequires negative COVID-19 test within 24 hours of your arrival into Victoria and between days 5 and 7 after you’ve arrived in Victoria

Western Australia

No travel exemptions requiredAble to make your own travel arrangementsHold a valid student visaTravel directly into Western Australia or arrive via another stateEnsure compliance with requirements upon your arrival into Western Australia including quarantine or post-arrival testing protocolsBe aware that protocols may change with little or no noticeComplete the Australian Travel DeclarationRequires full vaccination as approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA)Requires proof of vaccination status

Australian Captial Territory

No travel exemptions requiredAble to make your own travel arrangementsHold a valid student visaTravel directly into ACT or arrive via another stateEnsure compliance with requirements upon your arrival into ACT including quarantine or post-arrival testing protocolsBe aware that protocols may change with little or no noticeComplete the Australian Travel DeclarationRequires full vaccination as approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA)Requires proof of vaccination status

South Australia

No travel exemptions requiredAble to make your own travel arrangementsHold a valid student visaTravel directly into South Australia or arrive via another stateEnsure compliance with requirements upon your arrival into South Australia including quarantine or post-arrival testing protocolsBe aware that protocols may change with little or no noticeComplete the Australian Travel DeclarationRequires full vaccination as approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA)Requires proof of vaccination status

Tasmania

No travel exemptions requiredConditions exist based on where you have been 14 days prior to arriving in TasmaniaAble to make your own travel arrangementsHold a valid student visaTravel to Tasmania from an international destination requires arrival in Australia via another state and therefore rules must be followed in your port of entry Ensure compliance with requirements upon your arrival into Tasmania including quarantine or post-arrival testing protocolsBe aware that protocols may change with little or no noticeComplete the Australian Travel DeclarationRequires full vaccination as approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA)Requires proof of vaccination statusRequires negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours prior to your arrival into Tasmania

Northern Territory

No travel exemptions requiredAble to make your own travel arrangementsHold a valid student visaTravel directly into NT or arrive via another stateEnsure compliance with requirements upon your arrival into NT including quarantine or post-arrival testing protocolsBe aware that protocols may change with little or no noticeComplete the Australian Travel DeclarationRequires full vaccination as approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA)Requires proof of vaccination status

To summarise, every state in Australia requires full vaccination approved by the TGA and a student visa in Australia to study in Australia as an international student post-pandemic.

Resources for International Students in Australia
Before you embark on your study abroad in Australia, there are some resources we’d like to point out. 

First, there are courses you can take to prepare for university and to help you hone in on essential study skills to make the most of your learning experience. Additionally, there are also resources available from the Australian government to help the transition go smoothly.

Study Skills Courses
Skills to Succeed at University
Critical Thinking at University: An Introduction
Learning Online: Communicating and Collaborating
Learning Online: Studying and Reflecting
Learning Online: Researching Your Project
University Preparation Course: Getting Ready for Success at University
Preparing for University
Preparing to Learn Online at University

Australian Government Resources
Department of Home Affairs: International Student Visa Information
Australian Government Study Australia

Final thoughts

As you can see, it’s certainly not simple to study in Australia at the moment. With various pandemic protocols that make in-person university attendance difficult or impossible for international students, you may want to consider alternatives.

Join FutureLearn today and explore our huge collection of educational courses. From learning study skills that will help you once you eventually make it to study abroad in Australia to full university-level courses on all kinds of subjects, FutureLearn is here for you.

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