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Student Visa Regime: Govt Confirms Changes On Way

The government has made the first strike against what it views as the exploitation of the student visa regime, confirming a range of significant changes.

Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway said the changes were also aimed at better matching skills to the demands of New Zealand businesses.

"Our changes will support the attraction of international students studying at higher levels of study, and those who undertake high quality sub-degree courses that deliver the skills needed in our growing economy."

One of the changes is the removal of a visa foreign students can use to work in New Zealand, as long as they have an employer offer of full-time work.

"The removal of employer-assisted post-study work rights at all levels will help reduce the risk of migrant exploitation, and better protect New Zealand's international reputation," Mr Lees-Galloway said.

Currently, new students studying below degree level can work for a total of two years once they have finished studying, but that will be reduced to one year.

However, if they study outside of Auckland they keep the two years.

Those studying at degree level will be able to work for three years on an open visa.

Currently students on Level 7 non-degree, one year courses can work after they've finished.

The government had planned to increase that to a two year course, but has backed off that change.

No students currently in New Zealand would be adversely affected, Mr Lees-Galloway said.

"The changes will take effect in November 2018, with grand-parenting provisions that mean that international students who are currently in New Zealand will be better off as a result of these changes."

Official advice says in the worst case scenario the number of students coming here could be halved.

Mr Lees-Galloway said while there would be some impact on the sector, he did not believe it would be that dramatic.

"We know there are parts of the tertiary sector that are struggling, we're very mindful to make sure these changes support the tertiary sector ... but I would also say 'half' is a very, very unlikely outcome.

"We think the more likely outcome is closer to the lower end of our estimatation which is around a $12 million reduction in revenue and a reduction in the number of students by maybe 1200."

A summary of the changes:

  • The government will remove the employer-assisted post-study work visas at all levels
  • Provide a one-year post-study open work visa for students studying Level 4 to 6 and non-degree Level 7 qualifications, with an additional year for Graduate Diploma graduates who are working towards registration with a professional or trade body
  • Provide a two-year post-study open work visa for students studying Level 4 to 6 and non-degree Level 7 qualifications outside Auckland provided study is completed by December 2021
  • Provide a three-year post-study open work visa for degree Level 7 or above qualifications
  • Require international students studying Level 8 qualifications to be in an area specified on the Long Term Skills Shortage list in order for their partner to be eligible for an open work visa, and in turn for the partners' dependent children to be eligible for fee-free domestic schooling.