ALLOWING fully vaccinated eligible visa holders into the country from December 1 without a travel exemption is a lowering of the drawbridge on "fortress Australia".
Once a vaccination laggard, Australia is now close to the top of the pack, with 85.5 per cent of people 16 and over fully vaccinated.
The long months of border closures were criticised by the higher education sector and other industries dependent on a regular flow of international arrivals, but there appears to be widespread support for the way the staged reopening is being managed.
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To have reopened earlier, especially given the highly infectious nature of the Delta variant that has wrought havoc around the globe, would have been foolhardy.
Australian citizens and permanent residents have been able to re-enter the country without exemptions since November 1, field-testing the structures to manage an anticipated 200,000 international travellers over the coming months.
Still, the return of freer movement will not guarantee a quick recovery for those sectors that laboured under the border closures.
The future of the international education sector, once our third biggest export industry worth $40 billion a year pre-COVID, remains unclear.
The US, the UK, Canada and many other countries all took in international students when Australia would not and we will have lost market share as a result.
This may also be the case with some of the skilled migrants, backpackers and seasonal workers forced to scratch Australia off their list of possibilities since early 2020.
Confusion around quarantine requirements may also deter international visitors.
Overseas travellers can visit NSW, the ACT and Victoria without quarantining, but will need to do so to enter Queensland, Tasmania and the Northern Territory.
That said, there is cause for joy for humanitarian visa holders and refugees.
The Prime Minister's confirmation that he regards the 3000 humanitarian visas for Afghan refugees as "a floor not a ceiling" is a welcome gesture.
This cohort, like Australians in general, now have cause to hope that 2022 is going to be much a better year than those that have preceded it.
Hopefully, we can continue to inch our way back to our previous freedoms.
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