Hotels could potentially benefit from the plan with students able to help fill skilled job vacancies.

The Australian Government has green-lighted a plan by NSW to begin welcoming international students back to the state to continue their studies and gain jobs in desperately understaffed sectors such as hospitality.

A pilot plan funded by the education industry has seen student accommodation operator, Scape, retrofit a housing complex in the Sydney suburb of Redfern to help up to 650 students to complete their mandatory quarantine period at standards approved by NSW Health and NSW Police.

The first contingent of 500 students have signed up to return to Australia on specially chartered flights before the end of the year. All students are required to be fully vaccinated with a TGA recognised vaccine, with the student contingent coming on top of the state’s weekly threshold of returning Australian citizens and permanent residents.

Scape student accommodation in Redfern.

NSW Minister for Jobs, Investment, Tourism and Western Sydney, Stuart Ayres, said NSW was the top destination in Australia for international students.

“More than 57,000 students are currently overseas, with many desperate to return, resume their studies, part-time jobs, connect with friends and continue their journey in our world-leading institutions,” Minister Ayres said.

The program has been welcomed by Tourism Accommodation Australia and the Accommodation Association, with TAA Chief Michael Johnson saying he was pleased the program would now be going ahead after some time spent on hold.

L-R Tourism Accommodation Australia CEO, Michael Johnson and Accommodation Association CEO, Richard Munro.

“It is good news for our NSW visitor economy, but more importantly, it’s one of the ways we can begin to combat the chronic staff shortage in our industry,” Johnson said.

“Staff recruitment was a major problem before this last COVID lockdown and is now forecast to be even worse. We cannot begin to mount a viable recovery without workers and this is a step in the right direction.”

Accommodation Association CEO, Richard Munro, said the program was a welcome step forward but the skills shortage stretched right across the hotel ecosystem.

“We desperately need some more practical measures to come into play so that our members can start bringing their teams back together with sufficient lead-time to begin operating at the necessary levels once restrictions lift,” Munro said.

“That means allowing team-members to travel between LGAs for example with the necessary measures even while lock-downs remain in place.”