The briefings to new immigration minister Iain Lees-Galloway, obtained under the Official Information Act, advise that there has been a gradual increase in the number of international students becoming residents, labelling education as a “back door” for migration.
“The whole sector is concerned at the risk of a decline and any further reductions as this will affect businesses, jobs and a decline in the service sectors”
“Post-study work rights have enabled the transition to permanent residency for some international students (including those studying at lower/sub-degree levels and in generic subjects such as business studies) who might otherwise not have been considered suitable for the residence program,” the briefing reads.
“This has been a factor in the gradual decline in the average skill level of new permanent residents observed in the last five years.”
The note also says many countries had particularly higher rates of students receiving permanent residency, which it said suggested that some markets were more driven by migration that education quality.
By limiting or removing work rights, the briefing estimates up to 20,000 international students will be affected, but notes “it is not possible to forecast, with certainty, the impact of the… proposals on future international students numbers” and it “would depend in part on whether competitor countries make change to their work rights settings”.
The release has renewed concerns within the New Zealand industry, after Labour outlined plans to reduce net migration, by limiting work rights during and after study for international students in lower-level programs as part of their 2017 election campaign.
“The whole sector is concerned at the risk of a decline and any further reductions as this will affect businesses, jobs and a decline in the service sectors that provide support for the students studying here,” Independent Tertiary Education New Zealand chair Craig Musson said.
Speaking with The PIE News, Musson added that there were other, more suitable areas, the government should prioritise if it had concerns with the quality of international graduates remaining in the country.
“[This] is now conveniently termed as [a] “back door” path to residency as public opinion on immigration started to turn sour”
“We need to look at the wider issues and opportunities,” he said.
“ITENZ is leading a workshop with Education New Zealand and Immigration New Zealand to promote market diversification… and other government agencies are involved to provide their market intelligence.”
According to the University of Auckland’s international director, Brett Berquist, while there not been any actual policy or legislative change from the government’s discussions on reducing work opportunities for sub-degree students, the rhetoric has caused concerns.
“There is confusion and officials in market are advising students that current policy stands and any changes will be advised if and when they occur,” he said.
“Universities are also active in market explaining that nothing has changed in New Zealand. Interest and applications at the University of Auckland are at all time highs.”
“In the recent past, some advertisements placed in the Indian media emphasised how study in New Zealand is a path to immigration”
Berquist added, however, that there were potential ramifications for New Zealand international education which would be difficult to measure.
“There is always a potential risk of brand damage for immigration policy changes in any international education market,” he said.
“Students considering study at a New Zealand university may see a headline or read a report suggesting that New Zealand is winding back in study and post-study work rights, take the vibe of the headline and look elsewhere.”
That reputational damage appears to be already occurring, with the Indian Weekender taking offence to the briefings’ decision to focus on Indian students and agents. The paper argued that they were a “scapegoat” for the government.
“INZ’s website has for years referred to Student Visas and Graduate Work Visas as a “pathway to residency” – something which is now conveniently termed as [a] “back door” path to residency as public opinion on immigration started to turn sour,” it reads.
“For now, there are concerns about the blatant, and to an extent, disparaging bias, that INZ has toward Indian students.”
But education consultant Roger Smyth said there was justification in targeting Indian students.
“We need to look at the wider issues and opportunities”
“In the recent past, some advertisements placed in the Indian media emphasised how study in New Zealand is a path to immigration,” he said.
“Some providers were keen to accommodate such students and made sure their programs were structured so as to help students meet the requirements for residency,” he added, telling The PIE that this represented a small proportion of students, and most came to study within New Zealand with the only intention to acquire a qualification.
“Many international students – especially those at degree level and above – come to study in NZ simply to gain a qualification, but without any intention to stay; they have families in their home countries and can do well in their home labour market using their NZ qualifications.”
Labour estimates a reduction in international students will remove $230m from the New Zealand economy, almost the equivalent of the economic contribution made by the country’s regional areas.