What does the future hold for international students with their study goals set on New Zealand?
Following this week’s announcement that a limited border exemption would be allowed for 250 pre-approved PhD and Masters students, INZ hosted a webinar on its current position on international students, which we took the opportunity to attend. The key points to take away are below.
Processing of offshore student visa applications
INZ has emphasised that the announced policy reflects current government priorities regarding how and to what extent the borders can be relaxed. New Zealand’s border remains closed, but as the effects of the pandemic lessen we can expect to see further policies introduced for other groups of people, which may include other classes of student visa applicant in time. Offshore applications will not be processed in date order, but rather selected based on priority groups such as the one outlined in the recent announcement.
This means that most of those who have been unable to lodge visa applications since 10 August can take solace that they have not been materially disadvantaged, as unless you fit into one of the government’s priority groups, the application is not going to be processed at this time anyway. The current offshore application suspension was put in place from 10 August until 10 November but INZ has received no indication that the suspension will cease on that date, and the borders are likely to remain closed. This is because INZ is legally unable to accept applications when the applicant has no real likelihood of being able to enter New Zealand.
Future impacts on student visa and post-study visa policy
Looking to the future, it has been indicated that some impact to Post Study Work visas is likely, as New Zealand’s labour market feels the effects of a growing number of unemployed New Zealanders. It is possible the length of post study visas may be further restricted by region and level of study.
One important impact on student visa holders who find themselves offshore at present, is that they cannot be granted a Post Study visa if they haven’t completed the required length of study in New Zealand. Students who have finished off their studies online whilst offshore will need to calculate how many weeks they spent studying in New Zealand (rather than their total course length) to ensure they meet the policy requirement.
A further change tabled for the New Year is a likely increase to the amount of maintenance funds required by international students to support themselves during their stay. Currently the requirement is for students to have access to $15,000 per year, but this figure has not changed since 2010 and no longer reflects the cost of living. Many education providers recommend students have $25,000 per year available to them and INZ would like to see the fund threshold set at a level where students do not need to work to support themselves and can focus on their studies.
So far the attention has been on tertiary students, as the added complications of managed isolation for minors and other practicalities, has prevented any new policy in relation to secondary and primary aged students. There has also been no indication on when partners of students can expect some loosening on restrictions of their return.
It will be interesting to see how the government’s priorities in relation to international students and other migrants develop, following this weekend’s general election.