As the first planeloads of international students arrive in Canberra, a significant number of businesses are looking forward to better trading days.
A group of more than 20 ANU and University of Canberra students arrived on a flight from China last weekend, and many more are expected to join them before the 2022 academic year begins.
Most recently arrived students were part of a pilot program between the ACT and NSW. Universities across the two jurisdictions coordinated the logistics for the overseas students who will continue the studies they started before or during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The return of the international students is a welcome economic boost for the territory.
International students contribute $1 billion each year to Canberra, with each student thought to add $50,000 to the ACT economy through tuition fees and other living expenses.
“The University of Canberra is delighted to welcome back the first official cohort of international students as part of an organised pathway since Australia’s borders reopened,” UC Deputy Vice-Chancellor Academic Professor Geoff Crisp said.
“We have been working toward the international student return for a long time. I would like to thank all our partners and those who made it happen.
“UC is also incredibly proud of our entire international cohort who have had faith that they’d be able to return and have stuck it out. It’s a testament to their resilience and persistence in these trying times.
“UC will continue to support our international students in returning to Canberra over the coming months, both via formal coordinated pathways working with our colleagues in NSW, and through their own independent travel arrangements.”
On the same flight as those on the pilot program was Neil Drao.
Mr Drao arranged his own flights and visas and will study for a Masters of Medieval and Central Asian Studies at ANU.
“I am very happy that I made it,” Mr Drao said.
“The past two years have been filled with COVID uncertainties. It has been a psychological nightmare.”
Students who have received a vaccination recognised in Australia do not need to quarantine on arrival in the ACT before beginning their studies.
“When I arrived in Australia, the university provided a rapid antigen test. I returned a negative result, and I am here, ready to get on with life in Canberra.”
When asked how he found travelling from the depths of winter to a Canberra summer, he said he was thrilled.
“I studied for my undergraduate degree in England. Australian life seems much better.”
One business ready to welcome the students with open doors is 85C Bakery on Childers Street near the ANU. A bakery selling coffee and bubble tea, manager Yuxin Du said they opened their doors just as the ACT went into lockdown in August.
“Opening a new café during a pandemic was obviously not what we planned, and having no international students had a really big effect on our business,” Mr Du said.
“Now we are ready to say a big welcome to all the students and are expecting a rise in sales as the students return.”
UC Supermarket owner Bob Lu said government support helped his business survive and he managed to keep his staff employed through quiet times.
“I am from an Asian culture and I usually stock specialist Asian grocery items for the students, but those products were hard to sell when the international students were not here and the dates expired,” Mr Lu said.
“We are really looking forward to having the students back in the store again.”
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A spokesperson for the ANU said the return of the first group to Canberra this week is a very exciting milestone.
“We’ve missed our international students and they’ve missed us. International students bring many talents and ideas to our classrooms and make a substantial contribution to our campus, our community and Canberra. It’s really promising to see strong application numbers for 2022, coming from students from 131 countries,” the spokesperson said.
“ANU is working closely with our students located overseas to support their return to in-person study in Canberra this year. Some students have made independent travel arrangements, and others have opted for the University to manage their return travel. Their choice is dependent on their location and individual circumstances.
“We are all looking forward to a much better 2022, with our staff and student community safely back together and making the most of the vibrant campus experience.”