International students at the University of New England (UNE) will be among the first to land in the country in nearly two years, as early as next month.
The university's Director of International Strategy Ingrid Elliston said nearly two years of border closures hit new-starting students hardest.
At the beginning of the pandemic, most current students were already in the country, she said.
But many have since been forced to leave for parents' funerals and similar events.
And the would-be class of 2021 haven't been able to get into the country at all.
"2020 wasn't such a bad year, in fact probably when we look at it we were pretty much business as usual for that particular year," she said.
"This year has been where we really felt the impact.
"UNE does recruit from those markets, such as India and Nepal. They can't come in. They tend to be the students who want to come in because they're looking for on-campus. They want the post-study work rights that come with student visas, they're often looking for pathways to migration.
"Our nursing program has really suffered because the situation is although UNE can offer nursing online, and has for many years, the nurse's accreditation body says there's a limit to the amount of offshore online study that can be done.
"Basically we couldn't start any students."
But UNE has spent months working to establish a "pilot" process to safely fly in fully-vaccinated international students.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced on Monday that fully-vaccinated international students would be allowed back in the country from December 1, next week.
"We do have students on that 6th of December flight that will be landing in Sydney," Ms Elliston said.
Universities have been allocated seats on the flights according to a formula based on their 2019 international enrollment.
UNE has the second-lowest number of international students of any university in the country, so a relatively small number will be heading to the New England region.
Ms Elliston said the pilot program, which will be chartered by the universities, wouldn't solve all their problems, but is a symbol that the country is beginning to reopen.
She hopes completely new students will be able to start in February, but it's a tall order.
"This pilot is to return students to Australia. It can't be for new students who've never been here before, it has to be students who have already enrolled and are partway through their study. There's a fair amount of limitation on who can come in under that pilot."
It's not yet clear whether the new students will be required to quarantine, but if they are, UNE has dorms which are set up to act as quarantine facilities.
Finance Minister Simon Birmingham reassured international students about 2022 enrollments.
"International students should expect to be attending classes and be at universities for the commencement next year," he said.
Students could already travel to Australia during the pandemic, but required a travel exemption.
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