Many Bhutanese anxious as Australia delays reopening of borders

Australians returning from southern Africa must complete two weeks of hotel quarantine, according to the Australian authorities

The Australian government’s decision to postpone the reopening of its border to international students and skilled foreign workers, following the emergence of the Omicron variant of Covid-19, has caused anxiety among many of the 300 Bhutanese planning to leave for Australia this month.

Australia closed its international border early last year to check the Covid-19 virus, permitting only a select few citizens and permanent residents to enter the country. However, it announced that after December 1, foreign students and skilled workers would be allowed entry.     

After waiting anxiously for over two years, Nima Dem is very excited about starting a new chapter in Australia. But now with this sudden delay, she is fearful the wait could be long.      

“I had filed for Australian visa prior to the pandemic crisis and recently when it got approved I handed in my resignation believing I will be leaving soon,” said another visa holder, who was in a limbo for a long time, completely clueless after Australia closed its borders.    

Ever since the government down there announced the reopening of the borders, consultancy firms have been receiving over a dozen enquiry calls daily.  

The CEO of EduLink Consultancy in Thimphu, Tashi Conjure said it would benefit those whose visas were granted as they could travel to their study destination, sharing how around 10-20 visas were granted between 2020 and 2021. 

However, he encouraged his clients to apply only after confirming the news of the borders reopening.

Meanwhile, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison had previously announced that Australia will reopen its border to international visa holders from December; but just a day earlier on November 29, he decided to postpone the move after the emergence of the Omicron variant of Covid-19.

As per Reuters, Australia reported its first community transmission of the new Omicron coronavirus variant yesterday (December 3, 2021).

The new case is a school student from Sydney and was the first confirmed Omicron infection of a person who had not travelled overseas, a sign the variant was now in the community, according to the authorities in New South Wales.

Meanwhile, Australia has detected nine other Omicron cases earlier, but all cases were detected in incoming travelers.

Prior to this new development, Education Pro, one of the consultancies, had already booked a flight to Sydney for 252 visa holders on December 15.

 “I am not sure whether to hold on for a while or cancel the flight,” said the CEO of Education Pro, hopeful to send his clients on the designated day.

While some Australian states still enforces mandatory quarantine for visitors, vaccinated natives, some visa holders and citizens of Japan, South Korea and Singapore will now be able to visit Australia with only a pre-departure Covid-19 test.

Tshering Pelden from Thimphu