The university sector has breathed a sigh of relief, with an influx of international students in 2022 set to inject billions into the bush capital's regional economy.
Thousands of international students will return to Canberra for the first semester of 2022 following the federal government's decision to kick-start migration from December 1.
More than 200,000 visa holders including overseas students and skilled workers will be able to enter the country, marking an end to almost two years of harsh international border restrictions brought in to protect the country from mass COVID-19 exposure.
Home Affairs confirmed 164,731 student visa holders remained outside of Australia as at November 17, while 32,559 temporary and provisional skilled visa holders were waiting to come into the country.
Despite the green light to restart the nation's third largest import, Australian National University vice-chancellor Brian Schmidt warned the migration drought has reduced Australia's market share in international education, flagging a lukewarm rebound would hinder the country's regional influence.
"We will not have the soft power that comes from creating business and governmental leaders around the region," professor Schmidt said.
"That is a really valuable thing that our higher education program provides."
Professer Schmidt noted tertiary education remains a vital export, claiming ANU stands ready to assist in the visa application process.
"We will also work with the government to give them the information they need, including around sufficient resourcing, to be ready to administer the relevant visa processes," he said.
Annual report documents show ANU lost out on approximately $80 million in international student fees due to the pandemic.
The University of Canberra said its priority would be to assist current students stuck overseas needing to return to campus in the coming months.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced on Monday that fully vaccinated eligible visa holders can come to Australia without needing to apply for a travel exemption.
"Eligible visa holders include skilled and student cohorts, as well as humanitarian, working holiday maker and provisional family visa holders," he said.
Australia's international border opened at the beginning of November for fully vaccinated citizens, permanent residents and their families, without the need for quarantine.
Recently, a quarantine-free travel bubble has been struck with Singapore.
Travellers will need to be fully vaccinated with a Therapeutic Goods Administration approved or recognised vaccine, hold a valid eligible visa, provide proof of their vaccination stats and present a negative PCR test taken within three days of departure.
ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr welcomed the Commonwealth's decision, saying it would support the region's economic revival.
"Prior to the pandemic, international education contributed more than $1 billion annually to the ACT economy," Mr Barr said.
"The return of international students will help create jobs in our local tertiary education sector and assist in addressing labour shortages in industries such as hospitality, tourism and retail."
KPMG chief economist Brendan Rynne flagged the decision to fast-forward migration will assist in recovering from the 180,000 international workers which chose to leave Australia during 2021.
Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews said overseas workers and students would still need to adhere to quarantine arrangement set up by state and territory governments.
Non-vaccinated migrants including humanitarian visa holders would need to apply for a travel exemption and undergo quarantine.
Ms Andrews also announced vaccinated people from Japan and South Korea would be able to travel to Australia quarantine-free on direct flights.
Professor Schmidt from ANU said the delay in getting international students back into Australia has meant other nations have increased market share and power for overseas students.
He also noted the university sector is hoping the announcement by the Prime Minister will provide the industry with more clarity on the return to on-campus learning.
"We do need clarity now," Professor Schmidt said.
"We're going to have a lot more competition now. So getting our signals right and really being an attractive destination for students is going to be set by what we're doing right now.
"The current place we are right now is not going deliver them here in numbers and they are choosing to go to the northern hemisphere."
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said allowing more people to return to Australia from overseas was the natural next step.
"We want to allow skilled migrants to come to our country as well as international students sooner than later," Mr Frydenberg told Sky News.
"International students are worth some $40 billion to our economy, and we know that there are workforce shortages out there and skilled workers can play a key part."
Mr Frydenberg said Australia's booster program was critical in the coming months, following coronavirus surges in Europe and restrictions being reimposed.
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