19 Oct 2021

PhD students excluded from 'unfair and short-sighted' residence visa policy

11:23 am on 19 October 2021

PhD students say it is unfair and short-sighted for the government to exclude them from the new fast-track residence policy.

Chara Sun, Soda Liu and son Enzo

Chara Sun, right (with husband Soda Liu and son Enzo) is a PhD student of translation studies at the University of Auckland. Photo: Supplied

They say they are being ignored even though they are highly skilled and have been - or will be - contributing to New Zealand.

Chara Sun is a PhD student of translation studies at the University of Auckland. She lives here with her husband and six-year-old son Enzo.

Chara Sun's son Zeno Liu, in China.

Chara Sun's son Zeno Liu, in China. Photo: Supplied

When she moved to New Zealand in 2018, her youngest son - who is now four - stayed with his grandmother in Tianjin, near Beijing.

She had intended to collect her youngest from China early last year, but the borders closed, meaning she could not return to Auckland on a student visa. If she had residency, that would not be a problem.

"When I heard the policy about one-off resident visa, I was so shocked and I feel that's a little bit unfair for us," Sun said.

She did not know when she would be reunited with her younger son.

"I work in the education sector and my husband [is] working as an essential worker during the lockdown, but we are not included."

Adrian Ortiz studies physics with an expertise in data science at the University of Auckland.

He considered applying for residency but the wait time was about 24 months and he felt disappointed that the new policy did not include PhDs.

Ortiz said data science was in demand around the world.

"I have good options to stay in New Zealand, but then for me personally, one of the things that I want to have is also the certainty that I can stay, not just like the two years that a contract goes, and then I maybe just have to leave the country, but really start like planning for the future."

Ortiz studied on a scholarship and the New Zealand government had paid more than $100,000 towards his education.

He was briefly involved with a Covid-19 modelling programme last year, which won the prime minister's science award.

"The country actually has said that they need immigrants, so it's like, why do you say that you need the immigrants if you are not even taking care of the ones that you already have in the borders. So I think it's unfair in that sense and short-sighted when it comes to the particular case of PhDs or postgrads, or highly skilled immigrants," Ortiz said.

PhD student Wang Junyi is a member of the University of Auckland Council. He said a petition calling for residency for doctoral students had hundreds of signatures from the country's eight universities and the number was growing fast.

Johnnie Wang, a PhD student from University of Auckland, says not allowing students in will not only damage the country’s economy but also its academic future.

PhD student Wang Junyi. Photo: Supplied

"They make or they made an active and long-lasting contributions, not only to their field of study but also to New Zealand reputation as an innovative and research-led nation, not to mention the contribution they could make to the New Zealand industries."

Wang said unlike other student visa holders, PhD students were often regarded as staff.

Not including them in the one-off residence scheme could send an unfriendly signal - which may impact students' productivity and future post-doctoral recruitment, he said.

"The motivations and the productivity of our current PhD candidates who work and study in the university, if they feel the government does not recognize their value, I'm very worried about their productivity."

A spokesperson for the minister of immigration said in a statement that the minister, Kris Faafoi, was not considering extending the already broad criteria for the 2021 Resident visa, which it was estimated would provide around 165,000 people in New Zealand with a pathway to New Zealand residence.

"The minister says people who do not qualify for the 2021 Resident visa will still be able to apply for residence via other pathways," they said.

"The government is also currently undertaking a review of residence settings as part of a rebalance of immigration policy which will look to target more highly qualified and skilled people to work in New Zealand."

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