15 Sep 2020

Bid to retain work visa option for students stuck overseas

12:10 pm on 15 September 2020

Some foreign students studying online should remain eligible for New Zealand work permits when they graduate, according to a group of private tertiary institutions.

man's hands keyboarding on net-book while sitting at the wooden table in cafe,student working  laptop computer

New students who start studying with New Zealand institutions from overseas should also be eligible for work rights, an education provider says. Photo: 123RF

Quality Tertiary Institutions said the move would encourage more students to enrol with New Zealand education providers while the borders remained closed.

It included the call in a manifesto of policies it wanted to see from the parties contesting next month's election.

Foreign students could get a work visa for up to three years if they had studied a certificate or diploma for 60 weeks, or a degree or higher qualification for at least 30 weeks - but only if they studied in New Zealand.

The executive director of Quality Tertiary Institutions, Tommy Honey, said that was not fair for international students who were half-way through their degrees but stuck overseas and studying online because of the pandemic.

He said they deserved the same work rights as a student studying in New Zealand.

"We've really got to help those people out," he said.

"Learning offshore online shouldn't impact on their rights to what's called a post-study work visa."

He said new students who started studying from overseas now should also be eligible for work rights.

Honey also said Immigration New Zealand should resume study visa applications from people who were based overseas because the current pause on accepting applications was sending the wrong message.

"That's actually like pinning the closed sign on the door, rather than 'back in five minutes'. We've got to really think about the messaging we've got out there."

Other parts of the private sector were also keen for the government to restart study visa applications for overseas applicants and provide certainty about when foreign students could return.

The chairperson of English New Zealand, Darren Conway, said accepting visa applications would keep foreign students interested in New Zealand and help avoid bottle-necks of applications when the border did reopen.

Meanwhile, he said the organisation's members desperately needed support from the government's $10 million fund for private tertiary institutions that had lost at least half of their foreign enrolments because of the pandemic.

Applications to the fund closed on Friday and Conway said most language schools would not survive into next year without its support.

The chairperson of Independent Tertiary Education New Zealand, Craig Musson, said some of its 140 members were also hoping for support from the fund.

However, he said they were not confident of success.

"The criteria was very, very tight. Bit of a blunt instrument to be honest and there'll be many that won't meet the criteria and will struggle going forward. Some may end up closing if they don't get this fund," he said.

However, Musson said other private providers were doing well because their domestic enrolments had increased.

He said the increase included students who had left school early because of the disruption to their studies caused by the pandemic.

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