New Zealand brings forward border reopening for overseas students

Country’s universities have ‘a lot of catching up to do’ despite two-month reprieve

May 11, 2022
Nelson, New Zealand - March 10, 2012. A Man with a Boy on his shoulders look out to an Air New Zealand Aeroplane at Nelson's Domestic Airport, Nelson Region, New Zealand.
Source: iStock

New Zealand’s government has fast-forwarded the readmission of international students, who will now be able to apply for visas from the beginning of August rather than October.

Wellington has also tightened up post-study work rights and imposed stricter evidentiary requirements demonstrating that prospective students can afford to live in the country, as part of a broader “immigration rebalance” designed to shift the focus from quantity to quality.

Education minister Chris Hipkins said that the changes would put the emphasis on learning rather than migration. “We won’t be going back to [a] volume over value approach that became a back door to residency for lower-skilled and lower-paid migrant workers, who were then at risk of exploitation,” he said.

He said the fast-tracked border reopening would mark a “significant milestone” for international education operators, who “can now start to rebuild sustainably”.

Representative body Universities New Zealand said that the announcement brought “much-needed certainty” to students stranded offshore by more than two years of border closures. Chief executive Chris Whelan said students could now be sure of returning in time for the start of the 2023 academic year, so long as New Zealand authorities proved able to process visa applications smoothly.

He said that some students may be able to start their studies later this year, although most would struggle to reach New Zealand in time for the beginning of universities’ second semester in July. Students typically arrive in the country three to five months after securing university places, taking time to work through visa requirements, make travel arrangements and organise their finances.

He expressed relief that the government had “listened to the sector” over cost-of-living evidentiary requirements, with incoming tertiary students to now be required to have access to NZ$20,000 (£10,230) – up from NZ$15,000 at present. Mr Whelan said that a benchmark higher than NZ$20,000 “would have been difficult for students”.

The government will also ban foreign graduates applying for more than one post-study work visa. And it will abolish post-study work rights for graduates with sub-bachelor qualifications, unless they are relevant to 20 occupations on a new “green list” of skill shortage areas in healthcare, engineering, trades, technology and teaching.

Mr Whelan said that international enrolments at the country’s universities had slumped to about 30 per cent of pre-Covid levels after proving unexpectedly buoyant in 2021. “We have a lot of catching up to do.

“Our main competitor countries – the US, UK, Canada and Australia – reopened to international students last year. But New Zealand and our universities are attractive for international students.”

Register to continue

Why register?

  • Registration is free and only takes a moment
  • Once registered, you can read 3 articles a month
  • Sign up for our newsletter
Please Login or Register to read this article.

Related articles


Featured jobs