The University of Wollongong is ready to welcome back its international students "with open arms" following the news that certain visa holders will be allowed back into Australia.
Starting next month, fully vaccinated visa holders, skilled workers and international students can come to Australia without needing a travel exemption.
UOW deputy vice-chancellor (global strategy), Professor Alex Frino, said yesterday's announcement was "huge" for the institution.
In 2019, the university had 11,000 international students - 20 to 25 per cent of the total student body - but that number dropped to 5500 this year.
The pandemic and associated restrictions have meant UOW has not been able to attract new international students for almost two years.
"This (announcement) means we'll be able to recruit students to the university and start to grow again," Professor Frino said.
He said about 1400 current students who were offshore would start returning from December, and the university was recruiting for new international students to join in the first semester of 2022.
But Professor Frino expects that it will take a few years for international student numbers to return to pre-pandemic numbers.
He said international students added different perspectives in the classroom and contributed to the cultural diversity of the Illawarra.
They also made an "enormous" economic contribution, Professor Frino said, with those lost 5500 international students having brought about $500 million to the region.
Executive director of Business Illawarra, Adam Zarth, said the announcement was "great news" and the return of eligible visa holders would help fill the skills and labour shortages the region had experienced post-lockdown.
"Hospitality, retail and transport services are experiencing the greatest need for staff right now, so returning university students will help in these areas right away without having to quarantine," Mr Zarth said.
Recent Australian Bureau of Statistics figures show the region's labour force was down about 5000 people in October.
"As the end of year approaches, and many from the health and aged care services sectors have a rest after being stretched for over 18 months, the return of international workers as soon as possible will be a much welcome relief," Mr Zarth said.
People looking to travel to Australia will need to be fully vaccinated, provide proof of their vaccine status and have had a negative PCR test within three days of departure.
Eligible visa holders include people on humanitarian visas, student visas, economic visas as well as temporary and provisional family visas.
The government estimates more than 235,000 visa holders will be able to return to the country from December.
It has also forecast that an additional one million visas will be made available for all other travellers, at a date yet to be specified.
- With AAP
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