‘Backdoor to residency’ closing for international students in tightening of sector

Education Minister Chris Hipkins says the international education sector will look different than it was pre-Covid. (file photo)

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Education Minister Chris Hipkins says the international education sector will look different than it was pre-Covid. (file photo)

New Zealand will reopen fully to international students in August, but Education Minister Chris Hipkins says the sector must rebuild differently post-pandemic.

As New Zealand reopens the border, Hipkins announced a crackdown on the ability for sub-degree level students to work in New Zealand, and said the international education sector must rebuild with a focus on “genuine” students. He took aim at courses which he said acted as a “backdoor to residency” for international students.

Before Covid, international education was worth $5 billion each year to New Zealand’s economy. Universities New Zealand said more than 20,000 students used to travel to Aotearoa each year to study.

But tight border controls throughout the pandemic meant most of those students had not been eligible to travel to New Zealand.

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On Wednesday, the Government announced New Zealand’s borders would open completely at the start of August. That meant the international education sector would also be able to reboot, alongside tourism and other industries.

“From the end of July, all international students who meet normal entry criteria can enrol for study here,” Hipkins said.

But his reopening announcement came with a caveat. It would not be business as normal.

“We won’t be going back to National’s volume over value approach that became a backdoor to residency for lower-skilled and lower-paid migrant workers, who were then at risk of exploitation,” he said.

Changes to the international education sector included limits on the ability for people on student visas to work in New Zealand after they graduated.

Students in non-degree level courses would no longer be able to work in New Zealand after graduating, Hipkins said, unless they applied to fill a skills gap.

For students completing undergraduate degrees, there would also be changes. Hipkins said they would only be able to work in New Zealand after finishing their degree for as long as they had been studying in New Zealand.

He said there had been cases of people staying in New Zealand to work for three years on student visas, after studying for just 30 weeks.

There would be no changes to the ability for post-graduate students to work in New Zealand for three years after completing their qualification.

However, there would no longer be an option for students to apply for a second post-study working visa in New Zealand.

Hipkins said he expected educators to welcome the changes, and hoped it would strengthen the brand of New Zealand’s education system.

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