Approved students will be allowed to return to New Zealand in stages from April 2021 as part of the government’s recovery plan for international education.
“This border exception delivers on a part of the recovery plan for international education”
“The students will return to New Zealand in phases, beginning with a cohort of 300 that will be able to return from April, with the remaining students returning throughout the year as managed isolation and quarantine availability allows,” the country’s education minister Chris Hipkins said.
“This border exception delivers on a part of the recovery plan for international education. It underscores the government’s commitment to the international education sector, which is important in the country’s long-term economic recovery from Covid-19.”
He was quick to point out the return of these students will not affect the ability of New Zealand residents overseas to come home, which has previously caused tension.
New Zealand study providers will identify and nominate eligible students who meet the criteria; students will not need to apply for places.
To be eligible, students must hold or have held a visa to study in 2020, have studied in New Zealand in 2019 or 2020 toward their current qualification (which must be a bachelor degree qualification or higher), be returning to study with their current provider, and need to be in-country to complete their study.
Priority will be given to students who are closest to graduation.
Hipkins said students will have to go through a mandatory isolation and quarantine period of a minimum 14 days on arrival, which he previously suggested as a possibility in May 2020.
“They will need to book their space through the allocation system and will be billed the standard charges for managed isolation,” he said.
According to ministry of health statistics, there were no new cases of the virus in the community on January 13, but seven cases were reported in managed isolation.
The country has been widely praised for its response to the pandemic, and the New Zealand economy saw 14% growth in the third quarter of 2020.
Like many other countries, New Zealand has also said it will ask international travellers from most countries to show negative Covid-19 test results before travelling to the country.
The government has also increased the living expenses required for international students to be granted a visa from $15,000 up to $20,000.
Chief executive of Education New Zealand Manapou ki te Ao Grant McPherson welcomed the announcement, which “not only signals the government’s commitment to the international education sector, but to international students affected by the pandemic, too”.
“We are very pleased to see the government progress the safe return of international students to New Zealand,” he said.
Universities New Zealand added that the 1,000 tertiary-level students had “already made a commitment to New Zealand and we look forward to welcoming them back on campus”.
“This announcement reflects the important contribution international students make to universities, the wider community and the economy,” UNZ chief executive Chris Whelan noted.
“We are hopeful that we may be able to see further border exemptions in 2021, allowing our students to return and welcoming new ones as soon as it is safe to do so,” Whelan said.
“We are hopeful that we may be able to see further border exemptions in 2021”
This border exception follows on the earlier announcement of an exception for 250 PhD and masters students, who are now confirming their visas before returning to New Zealand.
New Zealand International Students’ Association said that the initiative to bring additional students beyond the 250 PhD students “shows that the government has been responding to our lobbying and other organisations alike, including tertiary institutions”.
“It is a new breath of opportunity for students offshore, especially since they have been requesting to return since last year,” incoming national president, Afiqah Ramizi, said.
However, costs around the new living cost requirement ($20,000), MIQ facilities ($3,100), new student visa applications (approx. $250) and flight tickets are a “drawback”, she continued.
“This is not a luxury that many international students can afford. We have seen the financial impacts of Covid-19 on the students and families since last year,” she said.
“They are most likely be forced to borrow more money or use their hard-earned savings. This means that a large proportion of students would effectively be excluded from this cohort – regardless of the government’s positive intention of assisting them towards studying and graduating in New Zealand.”
Despite government hardship and Red Cross funds announced in 2020, some international students have still fallen through the cracks, she warned.
“This year, there has not been any mention from the government to continue providing financial support to international students affected by Covid-19 and we are deeply concerned by this. NZISA will continue to advocate and to address the concerns on evidently reduced financial and wellbeing support this year,” she noted.
Being permitted entry to the country is safely is ultimately what all international students offshore would want, Ramizi continued.
“They started their education journey in New Zealand and have been contributing to this country since, albeit virtually in another country.
“The government and tertiary institutions should be working together with these students, to provide the quality of education that was promised to them by reflecting on the non-monetary values that they bring for the nation.”
Before the onset of Covid-19, international education was New Zealand’s fifth-largest export, contributing $5 billion to the economy and supporting around 45,000 jobs.
In December, Education New Zealand partnered with UK-based pathway provider NCUK to enable students in 30+ countries to access education at the country’s eight universities while borders remain closed.
Additionally, NCUK recently announced its first University of Auckland-branded International Study Centre in Beijing, China.
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