National is promising to expand work rights for international students, and increase student recruitment from a wider number of countries.
The party's leader Christopher Luxon, Tertiary Education spokesperson Penny Simmonds and Immigration spokesperson Erica Stanford launched the international students policy at Southern Institute of Technology on Thursday morning.
- Fast track visa processing for international students who pay an additional fee
- Increase the hours international students are able to work each week from 20 to 24
- Expand work rights for international students and their partners to make New Zealand a more attractive destination
- Diversify the countries Education New Zealand recruits international students from
Luxon said Canada and Australia had "pretty much" bounced back to pre-Covid levels of international students, but New Zealand's sector is about half what it once was.
"We have to rediscover growth," he said, saying the international student market should be a strong part of that.
He said there has been a big slowdown in visa processing times, and the priority visa processing fee would help resource Immigration NZ to recover their costs fully.
"We see MBIE for example is a big government agency, it's got 2500 staff, it's had an extra $500m worth of budget added to it, and what we really want Immigration New Zealand for is to deliver outcomes to New Zealand, we'll protect these frontline services, get these visas processed and get these young students here."
Asked who would process the visas if the backroom staff and funding were being cut, Luxon said they could "make sure that we move communications staff out of back office functions, we can make sure that's forward deployed into the frontline services ... I am not here to protect this bureaucracy".
In a statement, Simmonds said international education had been New Zealand's fifth-biggest export earner before the Covid-19 pandemic, contributing $3.7 billion to the economy and supporting at least 6000 jobs.
"We need to get sectors that can provide much-needed export earnings like international education back on their feet as soon as possible," she said.
She said Education New Zealand would decide the specific countries that would be targeted for expansion, but "we really need to be looking at the economies that are growing fast".
Stanford said the party wanted more international students able to bolster the workforce so there could be less reliance on direct immigration to fill roles.
She said other countries had adjusted their settings to attract international students, but Labour had failed to take any action in the area.
"Making New Zealand more appealing for international students and reviving our once humming international education sector is part of National's wider plan to rebuild the economy," she said.
The party had a further announcement coming in the next few weeks on immigration, she said, "using some pretty innovative new ways to support Immigration New Zealand".
Read more of RNZ's full election coverage: