International student numbers will fall if proposed changes to enrolment rules go ahead, primary school principals say.
The Government wants to set 11 as the age at which foreign children can come to this country without a parent or legal guardian and live in a home-stay.
Principals say that will stop children who come here as 10-year-olds from enrolling, and, if anything, the rules should be relaxed, not tightened.
The Education Ministry's figures indicate about 2500 foreign students attend New Zealand primary schools each year. They can do that without a parent or legal guardian so long as they are enrolled in Year 7 - a year level when children are generally aged 10 or 11 - or higher.
The ministry has suggested changes to the code of practice for the pastoral care of international students that will change that cut-off point from Year 7, to 11-years-old.
Principal of Glendowie School in Auckland, Anne-Marie Biggs, said that would stop many of the children who enrol in Year 7 at the age of 10.
She said the proposed change would also stop 10-year-olds from coming to New Zealand in school groups without a parent or guardian; and that, she said, would hurt schools and the wider economy.
"There would be a huge hit on the number of students who were able to come to schools, which would really affect the economy of New Zealand and also the financial advantages to schools."
Ms Biggs said that impact would go a lot further than just the few weeks or year or two that children were enrolled in a primary or intermediate school.
"These children often see the quality of education as so fantastic that they often decide to go on to high school and then into tertiary."
The Education Ministry said it had proposed the change in order to stop very young children being enrolled as Year 7 students.
It said a very small number of nine-year-olds were enrolled in Year 7 this year, but they might be living with their parents or legal guardians, or in approved school boarding hostels
However, the Schools International Education Business Association, which represents schools with foreign students, said the Government should go even further.
Executive director John van der Zwan said it should drop the requirement that children below Year 7 must come with a parent or legal guardian. He said a grandparent or aunt should be enough.
"It's quite a common practice in a lot of the countries where the students are coming from and we don't feel that that presents any particular risk to those students, so, yes, we'd like them to be able come with the grandparents or a close family friend or relative."
Claire Douglas from the Education Ministry said it will consider that call. She said the Ministry had received more than 200 submissions on the proposed changes to the code, which it was now working through.