The tertiary education sector has breathed a sigh of relief as the Government alters its immigration policies affecting the post-study work rights of international students coming to New Zealand – although the Opposition says the changes are “too little too late”.

Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway made the final changes after staunch opposition to the initial proposal to require students studying Level 7 graduate diplomas to study in New Zealand for at least two years before becoming eligible for post-study work visas.

After considering over 2000 submissions, the Government has revised its policy. The final changes to post-study work rights include:

  • remove the employer-assisted post-study work visas at all levels;
  • provide a one-year post-study open work visa for students studying Level 4 to 6 and non-degree Level 7 qualifications, with an additional year for Graduate Diploma graduates who are working towards registration with a professional or trade body;
  • provide a two-year post-study open work visa for students studying Level 4 to 6 and non-degree Level 7 qualifications outside Auckland provided study is completed by December 2021. At this point the entitlement for post-study work rights reverts to a one-year post-study open work visa for students studying Level 4 to 6 and non-degree Level 7 qualifications with an additional year for Graduate Diploma graduates who are working towards registration with a professional or trade body;
  • provide a three-year post-study open work visa for degree Level 7 or above qualifications; and
  • require international students studying Level 8 qualifications to be in an area specified on the Long Term Skills Shortage list in order for their partner to be eligible for an open work visa, and in turn for the partners’ dependent children to be eligible for fee-free domestic schooling.

Universities New Zealand has welcomed the changes.

“Providing good graduate outcomes is key to attracting the best students from overseas,” says Executive Director Chris Whelan.

“Though most international students return to their home countries after they graduate, a proportion have the qualifications and skills that New Zealand employers need but can’t find enough of from the pool of domestic graduates. Having the option of staying in New Zealand for up to three years after graduating makes New Zealand a more attractive study destination for these international students while contributing to our businesses and economy.”

National’s Associate Tertiary Education spokesperson Simeon Brown has also welcomed the changes, but says the damage to New Zealand’s international reputation has already been done.

“But it’s too little too late, with news that the number of Chinese students coming to New Zealand fell for the first time since 2013 cutting millions of dollars from the sector,” he says.

Lees-Galloway says the changes will take effect in November 2018, with grand-parenting provisions that mean that international students who are currently in New Zealand will be better off as a result of these changes.

“We understand that regional providers need time to transition. To support that transition, students who study sub-degree courses outside Auckland will be entitled to a two-year open work visa if they complete their qualification by December 2021,” he says.

“New Zealand is a nation that must compete on quality, not quantity. Our changes reinforce New Zealand’s attractiveness for international students and match up positively with our key comparator nations.”

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