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11th May 2022

New Zealand opens up to international students and updates policies for post-study work rights

Short on time? Here are the highlights:
  • In the coming weeks, 5,000 students will enter New Zealand under a border exception
  • Borders will fully open to international students 31 July 2022
  • Under updated rules, international students will only be able to secure one post-study work permit, and non-degree students will be eligible for post-study work rights only if their credential matches an occupation on the “Green List” of in-demand labour skills

New Zealand immigration officials will begin processing student and visitor visas beginning 31 July 2022, which the government says signals “the full resumption of international education.”

This is earlier than the October timeframe the government had earlier announced. In addition, 5,000 students will enter the country through a border exception in the coming weeks when their visas are approved. Visas are already being processed for this group.

International students who enter New Zealand should be prepared for tighter post-study work rights rules as well as heightened requirements around financial resources.

Of the international education strategy going forward, Education Minister Chris Hipkins said,

“The future will be different, we won’t be going back to National’s volume over value approach that became a backdoor to residency for lower-skilled and lower-paid migrant workers, who were then at risk of exploitation. [The] changes we’re announcing today seek to attract students to New Zealand to learn, while also shutting the backdoor route to residency.”

New guidelines for post-study work rights

The government also announced details on post-study work rights for international students going forward. Degree-level students will still be eligible for post-study work rights but non-degree students will only be permitted to work following their studies if their qualification is related to an occupation on the new Green List, whose categories correspond to labour market skills shortages. Those students must work in an occupation covered by the Green List.

The Green List includes 85 occupations and the government says the list “will provide streamlined and prioritised pathway to residency incentivising high skilled healthcare, engineers, trade and tech sector workers to relocate to New Zealand long term.”

Graduate students are eligible for three years of post-study employment.

No students are permitted to apply for a second work permit. The government says, “This is to reduce the length of time that someone can be working in New Zealand without applying for an Accredited Employer Work Visa, where the employer must first check if a New Zealander is available to do the job.”

Students will need to have more financial resources

Other than the 5,000 students coming in under a “cohort 4” designation, international students will now need to demonstrate they have more funds to cover the living costs of study in New Zealand. Higher education and English-language students will need to demonstrate resources of NZ$20,000 per year, while primary and secondary students will need to show they have NZ$17,000. The old rules required NZ$15,000 per year regardless of level of study.

Students will also need to pay the entirety of their tuition fees for their first year of studies (or the first programme they undertake if this is shorter) upfront.

And students who transition into a work permit must show funds of NZ$5,000.

Planned rebalancing

The immigration reforms that will affect new international students reflect the New Zealand government’s commitment to link immigration to economic priorities, and to stem the flow of low-skilled migrants to the country.

Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi said, “New Zealand cannot return to pre pandemic trends that saw us overly reliant on growing numbers of lower-skilled workers and resulted in the increased exploitation of migrants.”

Prime Minister Jacinda Arden said, “We know a major constraint on business is access to skilled labour. This [immigration] plan will increase the available pool of labour, while also speeding up our tourism recovery.”

However, Mr. Faafoi put the emphasis on developing the labour force from within:

“Our plan is to grow skills at home. Over the past two years, over 190,000 New Zealanders have benefitted from Government investment in trades training, including apprenticeships. On Monday we announced an extension to the Apprenticeship Boost scheme which will see a further 38,000 New Zealanders supported into a trade.”

The bottom line seems to be that international students are welcome to study in any field in New Zealand and to enjoy their study experience – but that those whose studies correspond directly with the country’s labour market needs will have a much better chance at working in/immigrating to New Zealand.

For additional background, please see:

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