International students could return to Canberra by February under a plan Chief Minister Andrew Barr said was vital for the ACT economy.
Mr Barr wrote to Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Wednesday seeking approval for a plan to alternate incoming flights of vulnerable Australians with flights of international students for the first three months of 2021.
It comes as Mr Morrison reiterated on Friday returning stranded Australians was his priority over overseas students.
"The single biggest economic decision we can make for most state and territory economies is to bring the students back safely," Mr Barr said.
"The universities are bleeding badly, thousands of jobs are on the line and hundreds of millions of dollars of revenue.
"The impact is not just for one year, but four or five years of a degree."
Under the ACT pilot scheme, students would undergo the same quarantine arrangements as the repatriation flight that arrived from Singapore in November.
The ACT government would pay for the security and COVID-related health checks and the universities and students would pay for accommodation expenses and mental health and wellbeing services.
The only ACT hotel which could serve as a quarantine facility for the large-scale return of people from overseas may be available from mid-January for three months, Mr Barr wrote.
The University of Canberra and Australian National University have advised the ACT government they could begin returning overseas students by mid-February.
Mr Barr proposed if the hotel was able to be secured "that the ACT accept a repatriation flight in January 2021 followed by an international student flight and alternating thereafter until Easter and beyond if possible".
A plan to return international students to the territory was scrapped in July as cases of COVID-19 began to rise in Victoria.
One charter flight carrying 63 students to study at Charles Darwin University touched down on November 30, becoming the first group of international students to arrive since the onset of coronavirus travel restrictions.