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NZ border opens and processing for visas resumes

The international education sector in New Zealand breathed a collective sigh of relief as the borders fully reopened, with many prepared for a tough few years ahead.

Prior to the pandemic, international students brought in around $5 billion per year. Photo: Unsplash

The border has been open since May 2 to 60 visa-waiver countries

New Zealand reopened its borders to international travellers at midnight on 31 July 2022, allowing international students and tourists, including from non-visa waiver countries, to enter the country in what prime minister Jacinda Ardern described as an “enormous moment”. She added that it had been “a staged and cautious process”.

Most visitors will need to provide proof of vaccination to enter the country. There are no longer any quarantine requirements, however.

Grant McPherson, chief executive, Education New Zealand, said in an open letter to the sector, “everything we have done – to support each other, support students, establish new initiatives, sustain and build new relationships in our partner countries, keep the New Zealand brand alive, and much more – all this work means that we are now able to focus on rebuilding the international education sector.”

Jan Thomas, vice-chancellor, Massey University and chair of the New Zealand vice-chancellors’ committee said “universities could not be more prepared for welcoming international students back into our communities – both on campus and off”.

“We have been working closely with Immigration New Zealand to ensure visa processing runs as smoothly as possible and have been assured it has the necessary systems and capacity in place,” Thomas said.

At the beginning of 2022, stakeholders highlighted concerns around visa processing causing uncertainty for returning students. But, along with borders reopening, visa processing has now fully resumed.

According to Thomas, there are steady numbers of new enrolments for the end of 2022 and early 2023, with numbers expecting to increase as the year progresses.

“New Zealand’s universities had many international students studying online with us during the pandemic and they are eager to transition to on-campus study as soon as possible,” added Thomas.

“It is difficult to predict how fast numbers will grow but we are confident international students still want to travel to New Zealand to study at universities all ranked in the top 3% in the world and to experience a country that is friendly, inclusive and safe, with a stunning natural environment.”

“We are confident international students still want to travel to New Zealand to study”

Michael Wood, minister of immigration, reflected upon the financial significance of the sector.

“Prior to the pandemic, the international education sector was worth several billion dollars to our country and education providers,” he said.

International students used to bring in around $5 billion per year, making it New Zealand’s fourth largest export earner, but that figure dropped significantly in 2021.

“While we’ve continued to support the sector with border exceptions through the pandemic, the full resumption of visa processing is great news for our universities, polytechnics and wānanga, and schools, English language schools, and private training establishments,” he added.

The border has been open since May 2 to 60 visa-waiver countries, including major tourism markets such as the UK, US, Germany, Japan and South Korea.

Many in the sector are prepared for a challenge ahead, including McPherson who said “rebuilding the sector will not be quick or easy or without new challenges”.

Jason Cushen, director of international, University of Otago, an institution which lost more than $40 million in international student revenue since the beginning of the pandemic, said that “it will be a number of years before we get back to the number of students that we were enrolling in 2019”.

He added that he expects to see an initial bounce back in enrolments followed by a period of slow growth.

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