SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia may on Monday unveil a further easing of its international border restrictions to allow the return of skilled migrants and students as businesses struggle to fill jobs during its COVID-19 recovery phase, Australian media reported.

The Australian federal government has been working on plans to bring skilled migrants back into the country without quarantine by Christmas, possibly from South Korea and Japan, the Australian Financial Review said in a report.

Australia’s largest cities, Sydney and Melbourne, opened their borders to international travellers without quarantine from the beginning of this month, although the easing of entry rules only benefited returning citizens and permanent residents.

“Safely reopening our borders to skilled migrants and overseas students will accelerate our economic recovery by helping address labour market shortages,” Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg was quoted as saying in the report.

The potential move comes a day after a group of international students arrived in the country from Singapore as a travel bubble between the two countries came into effect.

Australia closed its borders in March 2020 in response to the pandemic, allowing entry almost exclusively to residents, who had to spend two weeks in hotel quarantine at their expense.

Those border rules, along with swift lockdowns and tough social distancing rules, have helped Australia to keep its coronavirus numbers far lower than many other comparable countries, with around 200,000 cases and 1,948 deaths.

Most new infections are being reported in Victoria state, which logged 1,029 cases on Monday. New South Wales, home to Sydney, reported 180 cases. Other states and territories are COVID-free or have very few cases.

(Reporting by Renju Jose; Editing by Lincoln Feast.)

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