Australians stranded overseas are outraged overseas students will begin arriving next month, while they struggle to get home.
About 300 students from China, Hong Kong, and Japan will fly into Adelaide via Singapore in September in a trial program.
The students will spend two weeks in hotel quarantine, paid for by their universities, before beginning their studies on campus.
Universities are facing $3 billion losses from students being locked out of Australia by the travel ban, and hope the trial can be expanded nationwide.
However, thousands of Australian citizens trying to make their way home feel their government is prioritising foreign students over them.
Strict arrival limits brought in last month mean the few airlines still flying to Australia cancel many flights because they are not economical.
Travellers report being bumped off up to eight flights in a row or forced to buy business class tickets on planes with just 30 passengers.
‘Australians are stranded overseas, businesses are unable to trade and families are separated,’ one Australian wrote to Trade Minister Simon Birmingham.
‘If you can make it happen for Unis, how about making it happen for everyone else.’
Social media groups of Australians in quarantine hotels or trying to get on a flight home erupted after Sunday’s announcement of the student program.
‘This is a real slap in the face for citizens that are stuck,’ one wrote.
Another wrote: ‘Non-Australians are been given priority over Australian citizens to enter the country. This is wrong on every level.’
Others said the decision showed the Australian Government cared more about money than its own citizens.
‘I’m an Australian student stuck overseas and doing my course online at 3am! No offers to try get me to my home country nor pay for my quarantine yet they will for students from other countries,’ one wrote.
Another wrote: ‘The government cares more about making money from overseas students than its own citizens. It’s utterly shameful and an insight into the new values of the Australian government.’
Only 500 arrivals are allowed per week to Adelaide under the cap, and the charter flights of students would use up 300 for the week it arrived.
Senator Birmingham insisted this would not impact Australian travellers because the cap to Adelaide had never actually been reached.
‘There continues to be quarantine capacity for those who can get a flight into Adelaide,’ he said.
However, as the initial 300 is a trial to see if international student arrivals can be managed, many more would be flown in around the country if it succeeds.
‘International education is a huge services export industry for Australia and for South Australia,’ Senator Birmingham said.
‘It underpins many thousands of jobs and it is important that we work out how we get international students back to Australia safely and appropriately.
‘This pilot of around 300 students coming into Adelaide is going to be used to test just exactly how we’re going to manage that.’
One way flights out of London, for reference, in the next two weeks are only affordable if they are two or three-stop marathons bouncing around the globe.
Even those cost more than $5,000 to Sydney, dropping to $2,000 by September, but are mostly on multiple airlines with a risk of being stranded mid-journey.
Less than 60 international students arrived in Australia in June, a dramatic drop for 46,000 in the same months last year.
South Australian universities have about 7,000 studying remotely from their home countries and Australia had 500,000 in the country before the pandemic.