Written by Joanna Hughes

Citing desires to safeguard the integrity of higher education and reduce the number of students using international studies as a “back door” to residency, New Zealand’s government has plans to tighten its student visa scheme. Here’s a closer look at the initiative, along with what it may mean for international students, as reported by the New Zealand Herald.

An Influx of Unskilled Migrants?

According to recently released briefings from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, an increase in international students becoming residents has resulted in the “gradual decline in the average skill level of new permanent residents observed in the last five years.”

The government attributes this phenomenon to immigration policies allowing international students to stay and work in New Zealand on post-study work visas who might not otherwise have qualified for residency. Additionally, the briefing materials point out that students from some regions are likelier than others to take advantage of the system, suggesting that “some markets may be more driven by migration prospects than education quality when choosing to study in New Zealand.”

Assessing the Impact

Just over 18,000 graduates were granted post-study visas during the 2016-2017 academic year. As many as 12,000 students could be impacted by the change.

Officials say the move will protect international students as much as it protects the country because it will prevent them from being exploited by employers. Said Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway of the current system, “This is leaving them open to accepting arrangements to buy job offers, and thus become a party to immigration fraud, in order to gain residence.”

The change also promises to improve international higher education offerings. Education Minister Chris Hipkins told Radio New Zealand, “If a provider has been established to deliver low quality international education for the purposes of turning a quick buck, I make no bones about the fact that we're seeking to drive them out of the market. The days when people set up these 'slap-up' international education outfits are well and truly gone."

There’s still hope for international students hoping to study and live in New Zealand, however: The government has yet to finalize the rule change.


Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.
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