For more than 20 months, Australia's borders have been closed to most non-citizens, resulting in labour shortages and a negative effect on the country's key tourism industry.
Following an emergency security meeting on Monday, Australia quickly suspended plans to reopen its international borders to skilled workers and students. Concerns about the Covid-19 Omicron variant caused the last-minute decision, with Prime Minister Scott Morrison announcing that the much-anticipated December 1 reopening will be postponed by at least two weeks.
Back in May 2020, Australia had shut its international borders and only allowed restricted numbers of citizens and permanent residents to enter in hopes to decrease the spread of COVID-19, causing labour shortages and pummelling the vital tourist industry.
So far, Australia has detected five cases of the Omicron variant. Morrison described the delay as "a necessary and temporary decision" based on medical advice. "The temporary pause will ensure Australia can gather the information we need to understand the Omicron variant better," he said.
The conservative government opened the border to Australians, permanent residents, and Singaporeans, but not to the country's estimated 1.4 million skilled workers, who were prevented from returning if they left.
According to Universities Australia, an industry group, 130,000 international students remain outside the country. These universities have come to rely on international students, who account for around 21% of total enrolments, and the border closure has resulted in the layoff of hundreds of employees.
A plan to open the border to visitors from Japan and South Korea on December 1 is also now on hold.