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NZ: fully open on July 31 and post-study work reforms announced

New Zealand’s international education industry will ‘fully resume’ on July 31 when the country’s border opens two months ahead of the scheduled reopening, the government has said. It has also revealed changes in post-study work rights.

Auckland is home to two of the country's eight universities – Auckland University of Technology and the University of Auckland. Photo: pexels

International university student enrolments in 2021 were unexpectedly 72% of pre-Covid levels, but this year they are at around 30%

“New Zealand is in demand and now fully open for business,” Jacinda Ardern said on May 11. “New Zealand’s international border will reopen to all tourists and visa holders two months earlier than planned on 31 July.”

The new package of changes will allow for “significantly simplified immigration processes”, visa extensions, and a new “green list” of hard to fill roles which aim to attract and retain high-skilled workers to fill skill shortages in areas such as healthcare, engineers, trade and tech.

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

Education minister Chris Hipkins said the reopening will allow for the international education sector to start to rebuild sustainably.

“More than 5,000 international students have already been confirmed for entry as part of previous border exemptions, which means they can be here by mid-July. From the end of July, all international students who meet normal entry criteria can enrol for study here,” Chris Hipkins said.

Universities New Zealand had called for the 5,000 student limit to be extended in time for the second semester in July and August. The organisation has said it is “delighted” by the new announcement.

The government has also made changes to policy to ensure the country continues to attract what it terms “genuine students”.

Those enrolled in non-degree level courses will no longer gain post-study work rights, unless they are filling specified shortage and skilled occupations. The government is also limiting the length of post-study work opportunities to mirror the length of their studies.

This means that students that have studied for 30 weeks in the country in other areas will no longer be eligible to work for up to three years in New Zealand. Masters and PhD students will retain the right to work in the country for up to three years after their studies, the government noted.

Students will also not be able to apply for a second post-study visa in New Zealand, it added.

“The future will be different,” Hipkins said. “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.”

“We won’t be going back to national’s volume over value approach that became a backdoor to residency”

The changes will seek to attract students to New Zealand to learn, “while also shutting the backdoor route to residency”, he said.

Bringing the staged reopening forward from October to July 31 adds “much-needed certainty for our existing and prospective international students”, according to Universities New Zealand – Te Pōkai Tara chief executive Chris Whelan.

“[The students have faced] an anxious and stressful two years stranded outside the country because of border restrictions.

“They can now be sure, Immigration New Zealand visa processing capacity permitting, that they will be in New Zealand and at their chosen university in time for the start of the 2023 academic year and in some cases to study later in 2022.”

The organisation, representing the country’s eight universities, has long argued for an earlier border reopening, he added.

Whelan also acknowledged that the government listened to the sector by setting the “updated cost-of-living funds required by international students at $20,000 a year rather than any higher, which would have been difficult for students”.

It is anticipating further details on a refreshed international education strategy on May 12.

“It was good to hear minister of Education Chris Hipkins say today the government is committed to going out to the world to sell New Zealand international education and the attractive offering it is. We look forward to hearing more about this and the wider international education strategy refresh,” Whelan added.

The move will mean international students will shift from studying online to learning in-person, Ainslie Moore, director of the international office at the University of Auckland, said. It is a challenge the institution is “more than happy to take on”, she continued.

Around 3,500 University of Auckland international students are currently studying offshore and will be able to apply for a student visa from July 31.

“International students add diversity and richness to our campuses as well as playing a significant role in research and in the workforce outside of the university. They make a real contribution to our campus community and to our city and we are very happy to see them coming back,” Moore noted.

As the country’s fourth largest export market that contributed around $5.1 billion in economic activity pre-Covid, New Zealand now has “a lot of catching up to do”, Universities New Zealand noted.

“Our main competitor countries, the US, UK, Canada and Australia, reopened to international students last year,” Whelan said. International university student enrolments in 2021 were unexpectedly 72% of pre-Covid levels, but this year they are at around 30%, the organisation noted.

“Universities are excited and fully prepared to welcome our international students back”

“But New Zealand and our universities are attractive for international students. All the universities are ranked in the top 500 of the more than 18,000 universities around the world and we know New Zealand being so welcoming, inclusive and safe with a stunning natural environment is an important factor in our international students’ decision-making.”

“New Zealand has a strong international education brand and is universally regarded as a place that students want to come to study. It enriches us as well as connecting us to the world, and strengthens our reputation offshore,” Chris Hipkins reminded.

“Universities are excited and fully prepared to welcome our international students back,” Whelan concluded.

“We have missed the vibrancy and diversity they add to our communities, both on campus and off. We look forward to seeing again the mixing of viewpoints and the enhanced learning experience that come when you bring people together from different cultures and backgrounds.”

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