Australia ‘on track’ to welcome visa holders on Wednesday

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Concerns about the Omicron COVID-19 variant had delayed the reopening date by two weeks, preventing international students and skilled visa holders from entering the country.

Australia’s international borders will reopen on Wednesday as scheduled for eligible visa holders, including international students and qualified migrants, Health Minister Greg Hunt confirmed on Monday.

Hunt told reporters Monday that the reopening was on track to proceed when asked about the schedule.

“Yes, we are on our way to that, that has been reconfirmed over the weekend,” he said.

“That reopening is scheduled; it will take place in consultation with the prime minister, the National Cabinet discussion and the advice of the medical director.”

The plan to move forward with the reopening of international borders comes amid the emergence of the Omicron COVID-19 variant.

The federal government had announced on November 29 that the reopening for qualified international and migrant students would be delayed for two weeks from December 1 to December 15, in response to concerns about the Omicron variant.

The decision meant that many visa holders who have been barred from Australia due to restrictions at international borders for nearly two years face further delays in entering the country.

Beginning December 15, the borders are expected to reopen to holders of qualified international and student visas, as well as holders of provisional family, work vacation and humanitarian visas.

Relaxing restrictions would mean that fully vaccinated visa holders would no longer have to obtain a waiver to travel to the country.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison also confirmed that the reopening would apply to travelers from Japan and South Korea.

He made the remarks while presiding over a press conference with South Korean President Moon Jae-In during his diplomatic visit to Canberra.

“This is possible because [South] Korea and Australia have shared a COVID-19 experience,” he told reporters.

“Korea has had an extraordinary set of achievements in managing the virus.”

While Australia’s international borders have been open since early November, only fully vaccinated citizens, permanent residents and their families have been able to travel to the country without being quarantined.

Visa holders will need to have a vaccine approved by the Australian Therapeutic Products Administration to enter the country.

They will also need to submit a negative COVID-19 PCR test within three days of departure.

Business groups, as well as the university sector, have also been waiting for the reopening of borders to bring in workers to fill critical skills shortages and restart studies for international students.

The scheduled reopening comes as health authorities continue to assess the transmissibility and severity of the Omicron variant.