CANBERRA/SYDNEY: Australia will allow foreign visa holders to enter the country from the start of December, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Monday, as it takes further steps to restart international travel and support the economy.
Australia shut its international border in May 2020 and allowed only restricted numbers of citizens and permanent residents to enter in a bid to curtail the spread of COVID-19.
The rules were relaxed in recent weeks to allow foreign family members of citizens to enter, and Morrison said this will be scaled up from Dec. 1 to allow vaccinated students, business visa holders and refugees to arrive.
"The return of skilled workers and students to Australia is a major milestone in our pathway back," Morrison told reporters in Canberra.
Australia will also allow in vaccinated tourists from South Korea and Japan from Dec 1, he said.
The return of foreign students, who are worth about A$35 billion ($25 billion) a year to the Australian economy, will be a major boost for the education sector.
Many Australian universities have come to rely on foreign students and the border closure led many higher education facilities to lay off hundreds of staff.
A group of international students arrived in Australia from Singapore on Sunday after a travel bubble between the two countries came into effect.
Border rules, swift lockdowns and tough social distancing rules helped Australia to keep its coronavirus numbers far lower than many other comparable countries, with around 200,000 cases and 1,948 deaths.
Most new infections are being reported in Victoria state, which logged 1,029 cases on Monday. New South Wales, home to Sydney, reported 180 cases. Other states and territories are COVID-free or have very few cases.
($1 = 1.3824 Australian dollars)
(Reporting by Renju Jose and Colin Packham; Editing by Richard Pullin) ((firstname.lastname@example.org; +61 29171 7126;))