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More than 250 international students have arrived in Sydney, with 55 of them among the first UNSW overseas students to return to Australia since borders closed at the start of the pandemic.

International students have spent two years separated from Australian campuses after the country’s borders were closed during the COVID-19 pandemic. The planeload of students arrived from Singapore on Monday morning as part of the state government’s International Student Arrivals Pilot Plan.

Students from over 15 nations were on board including those from Indonesia, Singapore, Vietnam, South Korea, China and Canada.

Chloe Zhu, a UNSW Science undergraduate, has travelled from China.

a student emerges from the arrivals gate

More than 250 international students have arrived in Sydney, with 55 of them among the first UNSW overseas students to return. Photo: UNSW

“I’m really excited to get the chance to be on the first flight of the NSW pilot program,” she said.

“I’m looking forward to being back in Sydney, catching up with friends, strolling around the campus, joining student societies and clubs, and starting my colourful university life!”

UNSW President and Vice-Chancellor Professor Ian Jacobs said UNSW is thrilled to welcome back its international friends.

“International students play a vital role in the UNSW community, and the vibrancy they bring to our university has been sorely missed,” he said.

The pilot program is part of a joint undertaking by the NSW government, Study NSW and all NSW universities. The flights provide a guaranteed return path to NSW while the Australian border opening for visa holders remains uncertain and spaces on commercial flights may remain limited.

Prof. Jacobs said UNSW has been working with government and health authorities for more than 18 months on plans to welcome international students back safely.

“We are pleased to have achieved the first step in this program. While uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 Omicron variant remains, we remain cautiously optimistic today's cohort will be the first of many to arrive for the start of first term next year,” he said.

While the recently established travel bubble with Singapore has enabled some UNSW students to return, Prof. Jacobs said he is eager for those who remain outside Australia to re-join their classmates.

“Our students are drawn to UNSW because of our reputation for research and education excellence, but they also come to experience campus life and all that this wonderful country has to offer,” he said.

“UNSW has been a strong supporter of international education since the first Colombo Plan in the 1950s. Its ability to build relationships and cross-cultural understanding is unsurpassed and we will continue to welcome students who want to embrace that important global outlook.” 

A second flight carrying students from South Asia, including about 50 UNSW students, is due to arrive in Sydney later this month.

Fully vaccinated student visa holders and other eligible visa holders can travel to and from Australia without needing to apply for a travel exemption from December 15.

UNSW will continue to make provisions for online learning for those offshore students unable to return to Sydney.