Visa rules reformed to attract more foreign students

The New Zealand government has overhauled post-study work rights for foreign students in a bid to stamp out abuse and attract more enrolments.

The changes incentivise study at bachelor degree level and above and in centres outside Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city.

They also abolish a requirement linking one type of work visa to particular employers.

The reforms follow widespread complaints that employer-assisted visas trapped foreign students in underpaid work, and in some cases employers charged tens of thousands of dollars for their visas.

The Minister of Immigration, Iain Lees-Galloway, said the changes made New Zealand more attractive for students.

“We remain second only to Canada in terms of the work rights that people receive and in fact at degree level we have just gone past Australia and now provide a more generous option than that country,” Lees-Galloway said.

“The combination of that and a continued focus on New Zealand as a provider of high quality education makes us competitive.”

Under the old rules students were eligible for a one-year work visa or a two-year employer-assisted visa after they completed their studies.

The government said all currently enrolled students would now be eligible for three-year work visas, but students enrolling after 9 August would get three-year work visas only if they studied at bachelor degree level or higher.

New students studying at lower levels would get a one-year open work visa, or a two-year visa if they studied outside Auckland, a city that is struggling with housing and transport issues.

Work rights and the potential to gain residency and citizenship were major factors in a surge in enrolments by Indian students in 2014 and 2015.

The increase was accompanied by serious problems with fraudulent visa applications and poor-quality course provision at some institutions, prompting a crackdown by government agencies.

Value of international student market

The Executive Director of Universities New Zealand, Chris Whelan, said the changes made New Zealand a more attractive study destination.

Meanwhile, the Education Minister, Chris Hipkins, announced that the government wanted to raise the value of New Zealand’s international student market from its current value of NZ$4.5 billion (US$3 billion) a year to NZ$6 billion (US$4 billion) by 2025.

The target is NZ$1 billion (US$660 million) more than that set by the previous government in 2012.

Hipkins said New Zealand could reach the goal by focusing on high quality education, and by diversifying enrolments so institutions were less reliant on students from China and India.