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NZ: Exploitation at the centre of post-study work changes

The New Zealand government has unveiled new post-study work rights with an emphasis on reducing exploitation in the workplace, in a move that will see the country leapfrog others to offer the second most generous PSW rights in the world.

Immigration minister Iain Lees-Galloway announced the changes in a press conference during NZIEC. Photo: The PIE News

The announced changes, which come into effect on November 26, see a significant overhaul of New Zealand’s post-study work rights, with grandfathered arrangements available to all current student and post-study work visa holders.

“We want to get rid of employer-assisted visa because we think that’s a source of exploitation”

“The government has listened and acted on the feedback received in over 2,000 submissions,” immigration minister Iain Lees-Galloway told a press conference.

“Our changes to post-study work rights will boost New Zealand’s economy, reduce student exploitation and promote our regional education offerings,” he continued.

The new rights will see those who receive a study visa for Level 7 bachelor’s degree or higher provided a three-year open post-study work visa, while Level 4-6 students who have studied a minimum of 60 weeks will receive a one-year open visa.

To allow regional providers to adjust, those who study outside Auckland at Level 4-6 or non-degree Level 7 will also be eligible for a two-year visa if they complete their qualification by December 2021.

“We’re very mindful that polytechnics, in particular, who are based in the regions, but also PTEs, need an opportunity to transition to make sure they do have that absolutely sharp focus on the skills needed, particularly in their region,” Lees-Galloway said.

Under the previous arrangements students could receive a certain level of work rights if sponsored by an employer, but the new arrangements remove employer-assisted work visas.

“Our changes to post-study work rights will boost New Zealand’s economy”

“We want to get rid of employer-assisted visa because we think that’s a source of exploitation. Let’s just replace it with three years overall,” the minister told The PIE News.

In a bid to reassure students and workers already in New Zealand, those who currently hold a study visa will automatically receive a three-year open work visa.

Those in their first year of a post-study work visa will be eligible for a two-year extension, or to have their employer removed from their visa if they already hold an employer-assisted extension.

The changes were welcomed by New Zealand’s international education industry, which praised the government for taking consultation and changing their proposed work rights adjustments.

During the initial draft, several expressed concerns that those offering non-degree Level 7 qualifications – particularly intensive one-year teacher training – would not be able to obtain registration with a professional qualification.

Now, one year Level 7 graduate diploma and non-degree qualifications will receive one-year work rights with an additional year if working towards recognition, which would help the country address skills shortages according to John Diggins, head deputy chief executive at Early Childhood New Zealand.

“From our perspective, they enable initial education providers to attract suitable international students who can then come study a graduate diploma,” he said.

“We know we are competing for international students with other countries like Canada”

“We’re facing a critical shortage of early childhood teachers in New Zealand, so we are really pleased this is one step toward to a system in process and we’re pleased from a consultation perspective we were listened to and these changes were made.”

The new changes are a significant turnaround from those proposed during last year’s NZIEC, which appeared to crack down and remove a significant number of work rights.

Instead, New Zealand will sit behind only Canada in least restrictive conditions, and surpass Australia’s two-year offering for undergraduates.

“We know that we are competing for these international students with a range of other countries around the world like Canada, Australia,” Universities New Zealand chief executive Chris Whelan said.

In-study work rights and concerns over exploitation was another point the New Zealand government took to last year’s election, which Lees-Galloway said they would be looking into later this year.

“I don’t want anyone to make any assumptions to where that will go, we’re going into that with a very open mind.

“The frame that we’re looking at that through is ‘what are our opportunities to adjust our setting to improve outcomes for those students’,” he told The PIE.

But the news isn’t all positive, as the minister said the focus would shift away from a “bums on seats” and that of quality over quantity.

Below the degree level, where work rights have been limited, the government said the changes could lead to a reduction of 1,200 to 6,000 fewer students, which it estimates would mean between $12m-59m less in tuition fee revenue.

New Zealand experienced a dip in enrolments last year, however, the industry is viewing those numbers, as well as the changes as a readjustment to the industry.

NZIEC is currently underway in the capital city Wellington.

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