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South Africa borders re-open, but won’t be “business as usual”

International students are finally able to enter South Africa to take up study programs following the re-opening of its international borders at the beginning of October. However, challenges remain for the ELT sector as several important student markets remain on the restricted travel list.

International students are finally able to enter South Africa following the re-opening of its international borders. Photo: Pexels

"Those of us committed to internationalisation will be delighted to welcome and assist returning students"

Following the incremental re-opening of South Africa’s tourism economy, it was announced that international borders could partially re-opened on October 1, allowing students to visit, study and travel in South Africa.

“The industry is in a much more positive position than what was expected only a few short months ago”

“In the case of South Africa, most of the international students are from the [ Southern African Development Community] region,” said Orla Quinlan, president at the International Education Association of South Africa.

She told The PIE News that during the lockdown period, the majority of students had stayed with friends and relatives inside the borders of South Africa.

“Those who could not make arrangements to get outside the country had nowhere else to go before lockdowns were accommodated on campuses across South Africa,” she explained.

In preparation for advising the minority of international students returning, IEASA hosted a webinar for international office staff from all universities across the country to clarify the correct information to pass on to students.

“At Rhodes University where I am based, we sent information to all of the international students to clarify their situation with visas, the protocols to return to the country and to the campus,” Quinlan continued.

The news of borders re-opening was a welcome surprise for the ELT sector, where schools had been “waiting in limbo” according to Education South Africa.

EduSA schools were authorised to re-open on May 31, however, the ELT association said opening was not seen as a financially viable option for most as the international borders were still closed, with the majority continuing to offer online tuition to their remaining students.

EduSA said that schools which remained closed have started building towards resuming face-to-face classes, with most set to be operational by the beginning of December, and all schools planning to re-open by the middle of January 2021.

“The re-opening of borders, however, is only the start of the industry’s recovery in South Africa,” EduSA CEO Torrique Borges told The PIE.

He explained that the government has implemented a traffic light system, whereby nationals from countries with a low (green) or medium (amber) risk – such as key ELT market, Saudi Arabia – may enter the country as before, although with Covid-19-specific entry requirements.

Meanwhile, nationals from high (red) risk countries are subject to restricted travel.

But while these developments are a reason for optimism, the high-risk country classification does have its own challenges for the industry, Borges noted.

“The list is supposed to be updated every two weeks, which causes booking uncertainty amongst potential travellers, as countries can be added or removed from the list every two weeks.

“[Additionally] a number of important, visa-exempt markets are currently on the red list… including Brazil, Italy, Germany and France.”

However, Borges explained nationals from high-risk countries can still enter South Africa should they have a minimum stay of at least three months or a valid non-leisure visa, such as a study visa.

Borges said interest has slowly started to build for those intending to study English in South Africa, but mainly from the African markets, as there is more certainty with regards to travel due to their risk rating.

“There have also been many students from the rest of Africa on standby, waiting for borders to re-open, which augurs well for the industry restart,” Borges said.

“The list is supposed to be updated every two weeks, which causes booking uncertainty”

“While the high-risk list poses its own challenges, the industry is in a much more positive position than what was expected at this time only a few short months ago.”

Quinlan added: “Those of us committed to internationalisation will be delighted to welcome and assist returning students.

“I was outside South Africa, when lockdown happened, and had to be repatriated so I personally empathise with the uncertainty of travelling at this time, and I will do everything in my power to ensure that students have the right information to hand.

However, she said looking at the trends in other countries, “we must anticipate a second wave of Covid-19.

“When the students return, we will all have to continue to care for each other and take precautions. Campus life will not be returning to ‘business as usual’,” Quinlan noted.

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