Overseas students angry as Western Australia again changes rules

No apparent health rationale for ‘impossible’ new deadline, as requirements rewritten for third time in a week

February 2, 2022
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Western Australia has changed the rules applying to international students for the third time in a week, with foreigners to be granted admission to Australia’s biggest and most isolated state only if they reach the country’s east within days.

New orders issued by Western Australia (WA) police commissioner Chris Dawson on 28 January limit entry to international students who are on Australian soil before 5 February. Because they are banned from flying directly into WA, they will need to arrive elsewhere in Australia within the next few days before transferring to Perth and quarantining for a fortnight.

The new arrangements replace guidance issued on 25 January, indicating that “returning” students had an unlimited time window to travel to WA from other states and territories. That guidance had superseded a 21 January edict indefinitely excluding students from the state.

WA had promised a month earlier to open its borders, with international and domestic travellers to be granted quarantine-free entry from 5 February. That followed premier Mark McGowan’s assurance to vice-chancellors that overseas students would be admitted before the start of the academic year, after he reportedly walked in on a meeting between university leaders and state education minister Sue Ellery.

But the state reneged on these pledges over fears that the Omicron variant could overwhelm its hospital system. The latest policy revisions have been outlined in new “border requirements” and the incomprehensibly written “Returning Student Directions (No 3)”, leaving universities and promotional agency StudyPerth to explain the prevailing rules in plain English.

Curtin University vice-chancellor Harlene Hayne said her staff were “working very hard” to keep students abreast of the rule fluctuations. “I understand that the recent changes have been confusing and unsettling,” she said, in the university’s fourth Covid-19 update within a week. “We are exploring all options available that will allow students to commence or continue their studies for semester 1.”

A foreigner enrolled with a Perth university, who asked not to be named, said “false promises” from the state government had accelerated as students contended with “multiple rounds of conflicting information” and “poorly thought-through policy papers”.

“A metaphorical gun is being held against our heads to return to the eastern states, where Covid is rampant, or not return at all. An impossible, impractical deadline has been placed on us that does not have anything to do with health advice.”

To meet the 5 February deadline, the student would have a day or so to cancel previously purchased tickets to Australia and meet the “exorbitant” cost of an immediate flight, without any guarantee of obtaining the “G2G pass” needed to enter WA from another state.

The student had already lost hundreds of dollars in cancellation fees triggered by earlier policy backflips and endured a year shouldering the expense of short-term accommodation on the constant expectation that the state’s border restrictions would be relaxed.

The fluctuating Covid rules are not the first own goal Mr McGowan’s government has scored against the state’s international education industry.

In 2017, the government bowed to union demands to cut skilled migration by axeing a migration points scheme for immigrants, encouraging some students to opt for other states that had retained the scheme. The following year, WA’s share of international enrolments declined by 12 per cent.

john.ross@timeshighereducation.com

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