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NZ: travel ban extended, educators ask for Chinese student exemptions

The New Zealand government is under increasing pressure to exempt Chinese students from travel bans sparked by the coronavirus after it confirmed a travel ban on foreign nationals coming from China would continue for a further eight days.

NZ prime minister Jacinda Ardern. Photo: Wikimedia

Around 49% of Chinese students currently remain outside the country due to the travel ban

On February 20, the government announced an extension of the travel ban which applies to any foreigners who have been present in, or transited through, mainland China 14 days prior to them departing for New Zealand.

“From our point of view it’s extremely serious”

Students from China make up the largest proportion of international students coming into the country (nearly 45%), with about 15,000 expected over the next month.

Education New Zealand confirmed around 49% of Chinese students currently remain outside the country due to the travel ban and Universities New Zealand has asked the government for an exemption for international students stuck in China.

According to one report, Waikato University is expecting about 800 new and returning students from China this year, but estimates at least 400 students are still in China.

However, while the Australian government is allowing some high school students from mainland China to enter the country on a case-by-case basis, NZ prime minister Jacinda Ardern said her government is still considering removing restrictions on Chinese students.

Director of Universities New Zealand, Chris Whelan, said the ban had disrupted the lives of the affected students and if it was not lifted the universities could lose about NZ$170 million in fees.

“From our point of view it’s extremely serious,” Whelan told RNZ.

“We’re currently discussing the idea of an exemption, so some students may be able to come to New Zealand.”

Ministry of Education of New Zealand deputy secretary of Sector Enablement and Support, Katrina Casey, said the government hasn’t ruled out granting the exemptions, which would go some way to helping lessen the impact on the $4.5 billion dollar international education industry.

“International students are a valued part of our education system and of our community. New Zealand provides quality education to many thousands of international students each year, and we want this to continue,” she said.

“It is our understanding that the government’s response is under constant review. It is a fast-moving situation.”

Casey said the ministry is also working closely with educators to explore learning solutions that include resources and recordings of lectures through online platforms.

On February 24, prime minister Arden said officials were investigating whether tertiary students could be exempted from the ban.

“We would need to be satisfied that any health risk could be practically managed, with the education sector able to reassure us and the public that it has credible self-isolation and accommodation plans in place,” she said.

Asked if an exemption would be too difficult, Arden reportedly replied: “I don’t want to say that yet. We are really properly teasing it out. We owe it to the sector to do that.”

“We would need to be satisfied that any health risk could be practically managed”

New Zealand Immigration department has introduced measures to support student visa holders, reassuring them they will be honoured.

Student visa holders with a “first entry before date” will have their visa conditions automatically amended to allow them to travel for the duration of their visa. The reissued eVisa will be provided free of charge.

Meanwhile, a group of educators and students from across the country have created a heart-warming video to let Chinese students know that they are welcome.

The clip entitled “Wuhan, New Zealand is waiting for you” features interviews and images from Auckland, Waikato, northern region, Christchurch and other cities in New Zealand.

Additional reporting by Jennifer Menchin

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